Kashmir: Talk of New Political Party Gains Grounds as Eight Politicians Meet J&K LG

In first such meeting after August 5, the politicians demanded the restoration of statehood to J&K, protection of jobs and land.

Srinagar: For the first time after the dilution of Article 370, a group of eight Kashmir-based politicians, including three former ministers, met J&K Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu at Jammu to “take forward” the political process in the restive region.

The meeting led to speculation that the much talked about formation of a new political group in J&K has begun to take shape. The top leadership of both the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) continues to be under detention.

“How long can we remain silent and watch the uncertainty grow in Kashmir,” said G.H. Mir, chairman of the Democratic Party Nationalist. He was one of the eight members to meet the LG at Raj Bhavan. “We have to make a fresh beginning to take Jammu and Kashmir out of this mess,” said Mir.

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Other members of the group included Altaf Bukhari, Muhammad Dilawar Mir, Zaffar Iqbal, Javed Hassan Beig, Noor Mohammad Shiekh, Choudhary Qamar Hussain and Raja Manzoor Ahmad.

Barring Bukhari and Mir, the other six politicians who were part of the group are members of the PDP, which is led by Mehbooba Mufti. She has been under detention for the past five months.

New political formation?

For more than a month, reports have suggested that a new political group, with members from different parties, would be formed in J&K. Tuesday’s meeting took place a day after LG Murmu visited New Delhi to discuss the political and security situation of J&K with Union home minister Amit Shah.

Though Mir said they visited the LG to raise people’s issues, he did not rule out “things taking a new shape in J&K politics”.

“Shouldn’t we come together and talk? You never know what will happen in the future,” said Mir, responding to a question if the meeting marked the beginning of the formation of a new party. “Time will decide what will happen. There can be new combinations and formations once all political prisoners are released.”

Another politician, who was part of the group, said informal talks were ongoing between “like-minded people” to find a way out of the present political mess to “give new hope” to the people of J&K. “We are certainly moving in that directions, but things haven’t taken any shape yet,” the politician said, insisting not to be named.

Interestingly, PDP’s Shiekh also talked about the possibility of the formation of a new party. “You will come to know about [it]. Nothing has taken shape as of now, else you would have got to know the name of the (new) party. I’m still a member of my party [PDP],” said Sheikh, an ex-MLA.

The meeting also holds significance since no leader from the PDP and NC has met LG or any other representatives from the Centre since August 5, when the government of India unilaterally diluted Article 370 and bifurcated the state of J&K into two Union Territories.

This was the first formal contact between mainstream politicians from Kashmir and the J&K administration, which is under the direct control of the Centre. The meeting occurred even as the top leadership of both the PDP and NC, including three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – still kept in detention.

Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah

‘PDP members met in individual capacity’

Of the six PDP members who were part of the group, one is a former minister, four are ex-MLAs and the other is an ex-MLC.

A senior party leader said their participation “surprised” many within the PDP. “That they agreed to be part of the group led by somebody who was expelled by the party (Bukhari) is shocking,” said the leader, wishing not to be named.

Bukhari, the former J&K finance minister, was expelled by the PDP for “anti-party” activities, when the government headed by the party fell, after the BJP withdrew its support in June 2017.

A party spokesperson, however, said the party members met the LG in their individual capacity. “They didn’t discuss it within the party. We came to know about the meeting through a statement in the media,” said the spokesperson, adding no one in the party has the mandate to meet government representatives on issues related to Kashmir.

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Sheikh too said the party members had gone in an individual capacity and not discussed it within the party. “We had some demands and we raised them with the LG,” he said.

The move by the six leaders will, however, refresh bitter memories of 2017 for the PDP, when it faced a rebellion and more than a dozen party members, including former ministers, quit.

Group seeks statehood to J&K, no mention of Article 370 

During the half-an-hour meeting with the LG, the group did not talk about the demand for restoration of J&K’s special status. Instead, the members submitted a 15-point memorandum with a focus on restoration of statehood to J&K.

“For the residents of J&K, the issue of statehood holds more emotional importance than legal. Statehood for the inhabitants of the erstwhile princely state (of J&K) is something they genuinely relate to as a reference to their glorious past,” reads the memorandum. “We demand the restoration of the statehood.”

While there is an eerie silence on the developments post-August 5 in Kashmir, the demand for restoration of statehood has gained momentum in Jammu, with active support from parties like Congress, J&KNPP and even National Conference.

The group has also sought that the Centre safeguard the rights of citizens of J&K over land and jobs. Article 35A, which was also diluted along with Article 370, gave exclusive rights to permanent residents of the erstwhile state of J&K over land, jobs and immovable property.

“Annulment of Article 35A is the main reason behind the present discontentment among people of Jammu and Kashmir. The constitutional and legal decisions taken on August 5 have been viewed by a significant number of population of J&K as stripping them off the rights over their land and other rightful holdings,” reads the memorandum, seeking safeguards to protect domicile rights of J&K people on the pattern of Himachal Pradesh and northeastern states.

Other demands raised include releasing youth who have been detained since August 5, withdrawal of cases filed against them and the restoration of internet in J&K. They aso demanded that rising unemployment in the state be addressed.

“We apprised him (the LG) about the pressing demands. There are apprehensions among people about the loss of jobs and land. The Centre should allay these fears,” said Mir. “We deserve to get our statehood back.”

An official statement released by the Raj Bhavan said the LG appreciated the demands raised by the visiting members. He told the representatives that the government is committed to safeguarding the rights of the people of J&K.

The LG particularly assured the group that provisions will be made to protect the land of locals and create employment avenues in the Union Territory of J&K, said the statement.