Public Meetings Back In J&K, Exposes Rift In Gupkar Alliance

The former chief ministers - Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Ghulam Nabi Azad - addressed multiple rallies in the past one week

Omar Abdullah attends a public meeting in Jammu and Kashmir


Three former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers have hit the political ground running after a series of public meetings in the region. This is first such major public outreach by the opposition since special status to Jammu and Kashmir was scrapped in August 2019.

The former chief ministers - Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Ghulam Nabi Azad - addressed multiple rallies in the past one week. It was a sort of a display of public support by political parties who were pushed to political margins and irrelevance over the last three years of direct central rule in Jammu and Kashmir.

The meetings, however, have exposed divergent positions of the opposition leaders on Article 370 and also beginning of a blame game between the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party, or PDP, on why Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status. Both the regional parties have formed the Gupkar Alliance for restoration of Jammu and Kashmir's special status.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who had opposed the centre's move on Jammu and Kashmir in parliament, has literally given up the demand for restoration of Article 370. Mr Azad says his only demand is restoration of statehood and holding assembly elections.

"This time, our only demand is grant of statehood and elections be held at the earliest. Now it's not time to talk about here and there; whatever debates were required on Article 370 have already happened," Mr Azad said.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah hit back at Mr Azad and reminded the party that Article 370 was essentially a legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru. The former chief minister, who is on his first major political outreach programme in Chinab valley region, addressed a series of public meetings and promised to fight for the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir's constitutional position.

"If Article 370 is our legacy, it's more of a legacy of Congress. If Article 370 is there, it's because of the country's first Prime Minister Nehru sahib. If Congress leaders are not ready to protect their own legacy, what can they tell others? Also, have they already decided what will be decision of the court on Article 370? The case is yet to be heard by court," Mr Abdullah said.

But what is seen as a sign of rift within the Gupkar Alliance is Mr Abdullah's speech blaming the PDP alliance with the BJP for scrapping special status. The PDP says they will not react to Mr Abdullah's statement.

"It's not the time to play into the hands of those who disempowered people of Jammu and Kashmir. We want all parties to unitedly stand for the restoration of the rights of people," PDP leader Naeem Akhtar said.

During her public meetings, Mehbooba Mufti made Article 370 central to her political narrative. The former Chief Minister who led the PDP-BJP coalition in Jammu and Kashmir has been very critical of BJP's handling of the states and its human rights record.

"BJP gets angry when I say we will take back Article 370 with compound interest. I don't know why get angry, anger will not resolve problem. We are also angry for being deceived after 70 years," said Ms Mufti during a rally.

Since August 2019, it's mainly BJP that has been carrying out most of political activities in Jammu and Kashmir. The opposition parties remained largely silent due to security and COVID-19 restrictions. Many of them including Mr Abdullah and Ms Mufti were jailed for six months to more than a year to prevent protests after the centre's move. The past few months have seen a sort of revival for political activities.

Jammu and Kashmir is under direct central rule for the past three years after the BJP withdrew its support to the Mehbooba Mufti government in June 2018. There is no clarity if and when assembly elections will be held and also no indication when the delimitation commission would give its report to demarcate assembly seats.