After Months of Turmoil and Dormancy, PAGD Puts up United Face in J&K

The alliance said there is "no change in our stance” on the declaration issued on August 4, 2019.

Srinagar: After remaining in political dormancy for more than six months, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) put up a united face on Wednesday in Srinagar, reiterating its demand for the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s pre-August-2019 position.

After meeting at the residence of People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti, the PAGD, an alliance of six regional parties headed by National Conference chief Dr Farooq Abdullah, said there is “no change in our stance” on the declaration issued on August 4, 2019.

Among other issues, the declaration calls for undoing the “modification, abrogation of Articles 35A, 370”, terming the “unconstitutional delimitation or trifurcation of the erstwhile state” as an act of “aggression”.

Farooq, who chaired the meeting at Mehbooba’s residence on Gupkar Road in Srinagar, said the Government of India must “return the rights we had before August 5, 2019.” He also urged other parties to “join the fight” for “resolving the political problem” of J&K.

The meeting was also attended by Communist Party of India leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, the group’s convener who was also elected as the spokesperson. The post had fallen vacant following the exit of Jammu Kashmir People’s Conference (JKPC) chief Sajad Lone after a bitter public spat in winter last year.

“We couldn’t meet earlier because of the COVID-19 pandemic and other reasons. We discussed various issues in the meeting, including the future roadmap. We are committed to safeguard the welfare of people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Tarigami said.

Others who participated in the meeting at Mehbooba’s residence include People’s Movement’s Javid Mustafa Mir, Muzaffar Ahmad Shah of the Awami National Conference, Justice (Retd) Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference and the PDP’s Mehboob Beg.

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The alliance, now reduced to five parties after the exit of the Congress and the JKPC, was formed in 2019 in the days ahead of the reading down of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status to “safeguard the legitimate interests of the people” of J&K.

The meeting on Wednesday took place after a gap of more than six months, during which the constituent parties went through a lot of turbulence, primarily in the aftermath of the bitterly contested District Development Council elections which led to Lone’s exit.

While the PAGD managed to collectively win over 112 seats, Lone’s exit triggered a vertical split in the amalgam which went on to lose the chairmanship of four key districts of Kashmir division to the JKPC and Jammu Kashmir Apni Party led by business tycoon Altaf Bukhari.

JKPC candidates won the chairmanship of Kupwara and Baramulla districts in north Kashmir in the closely fought DDC polls, which were marred by charges of horse trading and alleged threats to elected members, while Shopian district in south Kashmir and the capital Srinagar are controlled by the J&K Apni Party.

While the DDC elections, which concluded in December last year, were underway, the National Conference faced accusations of grabbing the maximum share of seats for DDC candidates, raising questions about the future of the alliance.

In January this year, a meeting of Tarigami and Devinder Singh of the National Conference, with the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, deepened the speculations that the amalgam was falling apart, especially because the PAGD constituents had boycotted the swearing-in ceremonies of both Sinha and his predecessor G.C. Murmu.

Some leaders of the amalgam believed that the meeting had “diluted the message” being relayed to the BJP Central government, that the PAGD members don’t recognise the changes brought in the erstwhile state following the reading down of Article 370.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Farooq, the PAGD chairman, said the door for negotiations with the Central government is “not shut”. “If they (the Central government) want to meet us, we will take a decision at that time. We have not shut our doors,” he said.

Mehbooba, who wrote a letter on behalf of the PAGD to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month, seeking release of all the political prisoners in Jammu and Kashmir, said the amalgam will continue its fight for the restoration of the Article 370.

“The case is on in court but it is not being taken up now because of COVID-19, but even earlier it wasn’t being taken up. We met after a while and we just wanted to touch base,” she said after the meeting, according to the Indian Express.

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The latest meeting of the PAGD comes in the backdrop of wild rumours that the Central government was planning the administrative division of J&K by merging some districts of Kashmir, which have been hot in militant activities, with some districts of Jammu division’s Chenab region.

These rumours have gained currency amid reports of troop buildup in Kashmir, where fresh deployment of around 70 CRPF paramilitary companies has been made in the past few weeks while another 230 companies are on the way from other Indian states, according to officials.

While Inspector General of Police (Kashmir), Vijay Kumar, has termed the deployment as “re-induction of troops who were sent to poll bound states” in other parts of the country, the PAGD constituents and even Sajad Lone have asked the government to clarify.

“We want to believe even in rumours rumoured to be rumours. We love rumours don’t we. Last few days has been all about rumours and conspiracies. They say don’t believe a rumour to b true until govt actually denies it,” Lone tweeted.

Speculations are also rife that the Central government was planning to restore the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, for which it might be attempting to take Kashmir’s regional parties on board. The silence of the J&K administration on troop deployment and the absence of Omar Abdullah at the PAGD meeting have only provided fuel to the rumour factories.