A political movement has been set in motion for restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, which since October 31, 2019, is reeling from its degraded status of Union Territory, following the split in the erstwhile state into two union territories of J&K, and Ladakh. The bifurcation was announced on August 5, 2019, the day only Muslim-majority state ‘s special status was done away along with the inherent privileges of the natives enshrined in the constitution of India.
This movement, first conceived by Apni Party at the time of its birth in March 2020, has now been given a shape of a public movement with the party in the lead, as it has sensed that the people were losing their rights in the absence of the political empowerment, perpetuated by the continuous Central rule . It has asked its cadre to mount a peaceful campaign by telling the officialdom within J&K that the current status of the UT was unacceptable not only because that it was undemocratic in nature but also due to its distance and differences within the masses.
Apni Party, now having presence in all the regions, sub regions, districts and blocks in J&K, has moved ahead of other political parties, including the National Conference, Congress and few other groups calling for the restoration of statehood. The party has not only taken a lead but also owned the issue and its resolution as part of its political commitment made since the day it was founded on March 8, 2020 . It has moved beyond speeches, statements and press conferences, it has put a stamp of ownership on the issue, and, in clever move, it has also set agenda for the political competitors to follow, as no one can oppose this- the statehood is issue at the core of more than 13 million people of J&K.
After the party passed this resolution at its extraordinary meeting in Srinagar on Friday, its president Syed Altaf Bukhari, said that the time had come to remind Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to deliver on their promise to restore the statehood to J&K, and also to restart a result-oriented process for Assembly elections in the region.
Apni party’s thrust on statehood and the elections is a middle-path politics which it envisaged at the time of its formation in March 2020 – recognizing that the abolition of Article 370 by the Indian Parliament in August 2019 cannot be undone without approval of the parliament, and Kashmir did not have even double-digit numbers in the highest legislative institution to reverse the move. At the same time, it had voiced its concern that the degradation of J&K as union territory had given rise to fears of giving legitimacy to the unelected dispensation, besides it had triggered afresh fears that demographic change is on the anvil.
Altaf Bukhari had led a delegation of his newly formed party to meet Prime Minister and Home Minister in March 2020, explaining all the difficulties, concerns and also the consequences it could cause. But, now after having witnessed prolonged delay in the implementation of the two promises, which were at the core of assuaging the feelings of the people after they found that they had landed in an era of uncertainty with nothing happening to take care of their political rights, which were also linked to their ethnic, religious and linguistic and economic identities.
Why statehood is crucial for J&K ? First of all, there was no justification whatsoever in dismantling the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, even if the Centre wanted to meet the demand of Buddhists in Ladakh for the Union Territory. The UT status for Ladakh too has not worked out in favour of the Centre as Delhi had hoped for at the time of making this move. Its argument was that direct federal control was must to curb secessionism, terrorism and all other anti-national activities, and hence the restoration of the statehood was made conditional – that it would be restored at an appropriate time.” The definition of the appropriate time has not been spelled out, and this has raised doubts in the minds of the people.
This also is a matter of credibility of the Centre. If the situation has not improved to measure up to “ appropriate time” even after three years after the abrogation of Article 370, which was bedeviled as mother of all ills in J&K, this begets the question what went wrong? Delhi has to come out with answers, as it is insistent that the situation in the region has improved to the extent of being normal. It also claims that decisive battle is on against terrorism and its ecosystem, and the people were enjoying the fruits of the new-found freedom from fear of disruptions in their lives. There is no doubt that there are very strong and visible dots of normalcy in Kashmir, but what irks the people is the lurking fear that this normalcy is being used for denying them their due in terms of their political rights. Tourists are descending in unprecedented numbers, enriching the tourism- trade related economy, but is that all what Kashmir wanted, these questions are being asked in plenty. This is good but the political rights are soul to their urges and aspirations.
The statehood and elections are seen as necessary elements to empower Jammu and Kashmir and to keep its geographical and political unity on track, as the voices for split of this UT, too, have emerged and are being spoken of quite loudly . Some voices are calling for separate statehood for the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, separating it from the Valley. Any further division and the politics of disintegration could embarrass the Centre and give handle to the anti-India elements across the border and within J&K to tap on the emotional disconnect developing among the people.
As the Apni Party, and in particular its president Altaf Bukhari, have noted that the restoration of the statehood and holding of elections will serve as peacemaker for the community conflicts, and resolutions of so many other allied issues, as it would help communities and regions to come together. It will also help the Centre in developing a template to develop policy to resolving and preventing disputes arising out of disagreements.