Jammu & Kashmir: Region Aching From Leadership Crisis

Jammu & Kashmir: Region Aching From Leadership Crisis

A leader paves the way for a movement to be launched, sets its goals, inspires and shows the roadmap to his followers. A leader either gains the objectives of a movement launched or creates an explicit difference in the already existing structure. The excruciating state of Jammu & Kashmir has been struggling with political instability and leadership crisis since 1947, when India and Pakistan took over it. Hari Singh, the local Dogra ruler at the time of partition of India wanted Jammu & Kashmir to become independent. It was only with the help of Sheikh Abdullah (the founder of the National Conference and arguably, the unparalleled leader of Kashmir during Dogra rule) that India successfully made Hari Singh to sign the requisite instrument to accede the state of Jammu & Kashmir to Indian dominion. When Sheikh Abdullah took over as the Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, following the Maharaja’s proclamation of March 05, 1948 announcing the formation of a popular interim government, the very next day he told a press conference; “We have decided to work with and die for India…we made our decision not in October last but in 1944 when we resisted the advances of Mr. Jinnah.Our refusal was categorical. Ever since the National Conference has attempted to keep the state clear of the pernicious Two-nation theory while fighting the world’s worst autocracy” (The Statesman, March 07,1948).

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At a function held by the Gandhi Memorial College on December 03, 1948 Sheikh Abdullah said; “Kashmir would rather die following the footsteps of Gandhiji than accept the Two-nation theory. We want to link the destiny of Kashmir with India because we feel that the ideal before India and Kashmir is one and the same”. Instrument of accession was provisional pending a plebiscite to determine the will of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. In his press conference in London on 16 January, 1951, Pandit Nehru (the then Prime Minister of India) stated;
“India has repeatedly offered to work with the United Nations’ reasonable safeguards to enable the people of Kashmir to express their will, and is always ready to do so we have always, right from the beginning accepted the idea of the Kashmir people deciding their fate by referendum or plebiscite. In fact, this was our proposal long before the United Nations came into the picture. Ultimately the final decision of the settlement, which must come, has first of all to be made basically by the people of Kashmir, and secondly as between Pakistan and India directly…” (The Statesman, January 18, 1951). At numerous other occasions Pandit Nehru had made the same promises not only to the people of Jammu & Kashmir but to the international community as well. As a ruler of Jammu & Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah always stressed Pandit Nehru to ignore UN resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir and make its accession to India permanent.

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Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad further strengthened the accession of Jammu & Kashmir with India ignoring the demand of people for a plebiscite. The Constituent Assembly of Jammu & Kashmir under the leadership of Bakshi ratified the accession of Jammu & Kashmir with India. Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq was the next Kashmiri leader who wanted the pace of the process of integration of Jammu & Kashmir with India to be quickened to end the constitutional ambiguity once for all. Abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which gave special position to Jammu & Kashmir within India, was one of his political objectives. With Sadiq’s assistance, New Delhi successfully replaced the position of Jammu & Kashmir’s Sadar-e-Riyasat by the governor and that of Prime Minister by the Chief Minister.
During this period Sheikh Abdullah had reduced himself to the level where he had little choice except to follow the dictation from India. As the demand from Kashmir for a plebiscite was gaining momentum, Sheikh Abdullah in 1975 at Shimla signed an Accord with Indira Gandhi (the then Prime Minister of India) dropping his demand that the people of Jammu & Kashmir be given the right to self-determination. This is considered as one of the worst political blunders of Sheikh Abdullah. His demand for the restoration of the pre-1953 relationship between Jammu & Kashmir and India was also not accepted. After selling all innards of Article 370 to India and reducing it to a skeleton, Sheikh Abdullah did not stop there. On March 02, 1981, a bill to abrogate Article 370 was tabled in State Assembly by the Sheikh Abdullah led government. On the same day Sheikh Abdullah in the state Assembly said; “There is a clear mention of this in the constitution that Article 370 is not a last word nor it is a gospel that in no way can be amended or fiddled with…If we want betterment in our relations with the Indian Union, discussing the relevance of Article 370 is imperative”.

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After Sheikh Abdullah’s death, the National Conference now led by Farooq Abdullah, a completely untrustworthy man as called by Indira Gandhi, dominated the politics of Jammu & Kashmir. Farooq Abdullah, though unreliable but admired by his party workers throughout the state, never made any sincere endeavour for the restoration of pre-1953 position of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Instead Farooq Abdullah often termed the state of Jammu & Kashmir as Atoot Aang (integral part) of India. Omar Abdullah after ascending to power as Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir (thanks to the dynastic politics) also failed in bringing any change in the political structure of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Although Omar Abdullah talked about Autonomy of Jammu & Kashmir during his election campaigns & at other occasions, but during his term as the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir he never made any sincere effort to take up the matter with New Delhi. During 2010 Kashmir Unrest, when Omar Abdullah was at the helm of affairs, more than one hundred civilians were killed in Kashmir.
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, India’s first Muslim home minister and a two-time chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir formed the People’s Democratic Party in 1999 on the ideology of Self-rule.He spoke of soft borders, free trans-LoC travel & trade, cultural and academic exchanges with PoK as processes that will lead to Self-rule. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed advocated “Vajpayee Way” as the fundamentals of a solution to the long pending dispute of Jammu & Kashmir. After his initial endeavours in this direction he also failed in making any explicit difference in the political structure of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. During his 2014 election Campaign, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed termed Bharatiya Janata Party’s slogan of “Mission 44 plus” as dangerous for the state of Jammu & Kashmir but ended up forming a coalition government in the state with the same party. Like Sheikh Abdullah who is accused of bringing Indian Army to Jammu & Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is stigmatized for having brought Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other communal forces of India to Kashmir.

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After Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death, callow and callous Mehbooba Mufti, took up the mantle of the first woman chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir. Like her father, Mehbooba Mufti believed in “Vajpayee’s Kashmir policy” and asked India and Pakistan to rise above their political compulsions and initiate a dialogue for the resolution of Kashmir issue but her voice always went unheard. During her tenure, over one hundred civilians were killed and thousands injured when in July 2016, Kashmir erupted with protests over the death of militant commander Burhan Wani. Milk & toffee” statement made by Mehbooba Mufti in a press conference during 2016 Kashmir Unrest in presence of Rajnath Singh, the then Home Minister of India, still haunts the people of Kashmir. Although Mufti later apologised for the same but the statement is now recalled time and again by Mufti’s rivals and commoners.
Both, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party dominated by Abdullah’s and Muftis respectively never urged New Delhi for the resolution of protracted Kashmir dispute. Instead all the leaders of both these parties collaborated with New Delhi from time to time and enriched themselves. All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was formed in 1993 as a political front to further the cause of Kashmir. The persuasion of All Party Hurriyat Conference to resolve the prolonged Kashmir dispute as per the aspirations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir is genuine but like mainstream leaders, Hurriyat leadership also failed to meet the expectations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Kashmiris, although disdained by Hurriyat leaders at times for participating in elections, made incomparable sacrifices to support the Hurriyat leadership. In spite of unprecedented support from the people of Kashmir during 2008, 2010 and 2016 agitations, Hurriyat leadership could not convert any small opportunity into a big one to bring India and Pakistan on the dialogue table to solve the Kashmir issue. Complete reliance on “Hartal politics” and absence of any proactive strategy in the Hurriyat camp has left the people of Jammu & Kashmir disillusioned.
People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an alliance formed by various mainstream political parties is seen as another betrayal from the mainstream leadership. Although the alliance claims safeguarding of the special identity of the state of Jammu & Kashmir and restoring of Article 370 and Article 35-A, continuous holding of the membership of Indian Parliament (the institution that abrogated Article 370 and Article 35-A) by the members of two main political parties of this alliance, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, makes it hard for the people of Jammu & Kashmir to trust its leadership. The decision of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) to participate in the first-ever District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu & Kashmir in which, besides some genuine candidates every Tom, Dick and Harry is trying his luck, has further added to the trust deficiency in people.

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As the state of Jammu & Kashmir has a history of betrayals and keeping in view the track record of its leadership, restoration of Article 370 and Article 35-A seems an uphill task. The very concepts of the National Conference’s Autonomy and the People’s Democratic Party’s Self-rule also seem utopian now. Many other people from time to time tried to emerge as the leaders in Jammu & Kashmir but due to lack of spirit and leadership potential in them, they faded out in a short span of time.
Jammu & Kashmir is yet to come across an astute and principled leadership which people can look at with trust and belief. Mainstream leadership of Jammu & Kashmir always behaved the marionette of New Delhi and Hurriyat always danced to the tones of Islamabad. Jammu & Kashmir needs such a leadership that will act on its own and makes India, Pakistan and international community realise that Jammu & Kashmir is neither India’s Atoot Aang (unbreakable/integral part) nor Pakistan’s shah rag (jugular vein) instead it is a disputed territory and the people of Jammu & Kashmir are the main stakeholders of this dispute and that it needs to be resolved as per the aspirations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

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