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The PDP would take part in the political process and have the restoration of 370 as its first demand. This should be acceptable and welcome. Parliamentary democracy is all about political bargaining. As long as parties are willing to accept to work within the Constitution, and use political means to amend it, why should anyone be worried or afraid about it?

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IPRI # 83, 24 July 2020

Friday Backgrounder
J&K: After the Hurriyat, is the PDP relevant in Kashmir politics today?

  D. Suba Chandran

I
Facts on the ground

Last week, on 20 July 2020, the J&K Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), passed a resolution calling for “the restoration of special constitutional and legal status of the erstwhile State.” (Peerzada Ashiq, “PDP says it will fight to restore J&K’s special status,” The Hindu, 20 July 2020)

Writing in the Hindu, Peerzada Ashiq refers to the PDP resolution stating: “The manner in which the Parliament of India was misused to betray the people of this erstwhile State by abrogating Article 370 and 35A and downgrading the State into Union Territory shall always be a blot on the highest democratic institution.” Ashiq also quotes a PDP leader saying: “Our party is committed to the Gupkar Declaration, where regional parties in J&K have unanimously resolved to fight abrogation of the constitutional provisions that guarantee its special status.”

II
Focus Questions in the background

One year later 5 August 2019, where is the PDP today? 
During the last election (2014) for the J&K State legislative assembly, out of the total 87 seats, the PDP had won 28 seats. BJP had won 25, followed by the National Conference (15) and Congress (12). In terms of percentage of votes, the PDP had 22.7, while the BJP had securely slightly more (23 percentage). 

The PDP’s first major political move after the 2014 elections was upsetting for those who voted for it. When the PDP agreed to form a coalition government with the BJP, the decision was not approved by the majority of its voters from the Valley. However, the PDP went ahead and formed the coalition and the government in March 2015, with a common minimum programme. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became the Chief Minister, with Nirmal Singh of the BJP as the Deputy CM. When Mufti passed away in January 2016, after a brief period of Governor’s rule, and political bargaining in the background, the PDP continued its alliance with the BJP. In March 2016, Mehbooba Mufti became the first woman Chief Minister of the State.

The killing of Burhan Wani, in July 2016 created the second major upset for the PDP within the Valley. Burhan Wani, a young militant commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen by 2016, has become an icon for the Kashmiri youth. Following his killing, there were widespread protests and violence within the Valley, that resulted in more than 80 people getting killed.

The killing of Wani not only increased the distance between the PDP and its voters but also between the PDP and BJP. While the BJP celebrated, the PDP deplored it in public. However, post-Wani, the Valley perceived the PDP as incompetent, and worse a stooge of New Delhi.

The next major upset to the PDP came in May-June 2018. While the PDP wanted the month-long ceasefire to extend (introduced in May 2018 to facilitate the Ramzan), it could not ensure the same with the BJP government in New Delhi. The Home Ministry decided to withdraw the ceasefire in June 2018, much to the dismay of the local population in the Valley.

In June 2018, when the BJP pulled out of the coalition, Mehbooba Mufti had to resign. By that time, the PDP had also lost substantial support within the Kashmir Valley.

Post-June 2018 politics took a different turn within J&K. The Governor’s rule was imposed in the State, along with a series of security lockdowns in Kashmir Valley. The PDP by the beginning of 2019 has lost not only the government but also substantial political support within Kashmir. The revocation of Article 370 on 5 August 2019 and the detention of the PDP leaders including Mehbooba Mufti, has made the party politically inactive since then.

Post-370, is the PDP relevant today? 
The PDP is more relevant today than before. Along with other regional political parties such as the National Conference led by the Abdullahs.

While the BJP and many in the Jammu region consider the PDP’s policies as “soft separatism”, the party represents a political sentiment within Kashmir Valley. During the last few elections, the party has also expanded its base outside the Valley, into Rajouri and Poonch districts of the Jammu region. It has a presence also in Doda-Bhaderwah-Kishtwar belt. The PDP (and the NC) today are regional parties, with a presence outside the Kashmir Valley. One has to look at the votes, besides the seats these parties have won in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

Second, while criticizing the PDP for pursuing soft separatism, one should also understand its slogans such as the “healing touch” played a crucial role during the last decade in bringing normalcy to the Valley. Importantly, PDP’s policies also appealed to the not-so-soft-separatists, enabling the latter to vote for the former.

Third, the PDP, during the last decade, wrested the “azadi” narrative from the separatists with its own “self-rule” slogan. While the PDP critics outside the Valley would equate self-rule with azadi, it is not the case. The PDP has been taking part in the elections since the 1990s and was willing to play a positive and political role within the Indian Constitution, which the separatists were unwilling to. The Hurriyat that represented the other end of the spectrum in the Valley would neither accept the Indian Constitution nor take part in elections. The PDP would.

Fourth, Mehbooba Mufti, as a leader, was acceptable to the Kashmir youths. With Hurriyat in disarray, especially after the retirement announcement by Syed Ali Geelani, there are not many leaders in Kashmir Valley, whom the youths could relate to. Democracies will loose if Burhan Wanis have to become the role models and youth icons. Besides the PDP as a party, Mehbooba as an individual also has a role to play. So is the National Conference and Omar Abdullah. Despite all the criticisms about they are more relevant today than ever before.

Fourth, at the national level, regional parties have an important role to play in strengthening the federation. The Indian model could succeed because of the coexistence between the national and regional political parties. Any national party – whether it is the BJP or the Congress, has a right to aspire for a larger presence at every level; however, it should not come at the cost of regional political parties. One has to look at the Indian neighbourhood to see the status of democracy and federalism if the regional political parties are either sidelined or engineered.

Post-August 2019, is 370 relevant to the PDP?
While the Abdullahs have been released (Farooq and Omar), the President of the PDP Mehbooba is still under detention. Perhaps, the Indian State feels post-370 politics would be relevant for the Abdullahs and the NC, but not for Mehbooba and the PDP. That could be one inference, why the NC leaders have been released, but not the PDP’s.

Does the Indian State fear that Mehbooba and the PDP would act outside the Indian Constitution if Article 370 is not restored? If that is the reason behind the State not releasing her, it is ill-founded. Political parties like the PDP and NC do not shun the political path unless such a strategy yield more dividend politically and electorally.

Has the Hurriyat gained or lost, by not pursuing an electoral path? PDP would lose more, as the NC is likely to gain the ground. Hence, the PDP would take part in the political process and have the restoration of 370 as its first demand. This should be acceptable and welcome. Parliamentary democracy is all about political bargaining.

As long as parties are willing to accept to work within the Constitution, and use political means to amend it, why should anyone be worried or afraid about it? Is it not the strength of democracy and constitutional process? Is it not the strength of a federal structure?


 

Also in the series:

J&K: Omar Abdullah complains, there is no space for mainstream leaders. Should there be one?, 31 July 2020

J&K: After the Hurriyat, is the PDP relevant in Kashmir politics today?, 24 July 2020

J&K: Four years after Burhan Wani, 10 July 2020

The Rise, Fall and Irrelevance of Geelani. And the Hurriyat, 3 July 2020

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March 2019 | IPRI # 5
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

The Other Conflict in Rakhine State

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West Asia
February 2019 | IPRI # 4
IPRI Comments

Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

Yemen: Will Sa'nna fall?

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China and Islam
February 2019 | IPRI # 3
IPRI Comments

Harini Madhusudhan

Sinicizing the Minorities

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Terrorism
January 2019 | IPRI # 2
IPRI Comments

Sourina Bej

Maghreb: What makes al Shahab Resilient?

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Global Politics
January 2019 | IPRI # 1
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Myanmar: Will 2019 be better for the Rohingya?

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