Kashmir’s Game of Throne

Kashmir’s Game of Throne

Recent political developments in Kashmir appear as part of a larger design: to knock out the mainstream regional parties whose Autonomy, Self-Rule or Achievable Nationhood proposals would often clash with Delhi’s Kashmir motives. Will it go down in the history as GoI’s yet another Kashmir blunder?


By Sabira Shah

Some senior BJP leaders of the Vajpayee era—now holding a modest mandate in the Modi government—were lately curiously watching Srinagar from New Delhi. Some of them, it’s believed, were against BJP government’s new asset building investment in late Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone’s son, Sajad Lone, at the cost of shielding New Delhi’s old and tested loyalists tucked at Srinagar’s Gupkar Road. Some of these senior Sangh men, it’s said, were instrumental behind the idea of the so-called grand alliance.
When Altaf Bukhari, who otherwise had emerged as a ringleader of ‘16 PDP dissidents’ at the peak of 2016 uprising, called media conference at his residence on 21 November, the idea of the elusive grand alliance on the 2015 Bihar-style finally crystallised in the state.
“But Bukhari, billed as chief minister of the alliance, was only acting as the spokesperson of the plan hatched at the top level,” says a senior PDP leader, who was the part of the clandestine political development. “In the larger political game, even he was outfoxed.”
No wonder then, why Sajad Lone came to Bukhari’s defence during his presser. Apparently, Bukhari, a ‘powerful’ businessman was tricked and roped in as the eleventh hour bargainer. But that Sajad Lone was getting too big for his boots was the underlining thought-process behind the idea of the grand alliance, says a PDP lawmaker hailing from the erstwhile Ikhwan sanctuary.
“Our party leader [Mehbooba Mufti] had registered a strong protest at Delhi circles that this former separatist [Sajad Lone] can’t disintegrate the party [PDP] that their leader [Vajpayee] had help set up as an alternate to National Conference in 1999,” says the PDP lawmaker.
As part of the bargain, the PDP leader says, was Mehbooba’s sentimental performance, based on her vintage ‘sob-opera’ politics — with which she made inroads into militant families’, right from the mid-‘90s. Apparently, the senior Mufti’s colleagues couldn’t turn down their late colleague’s daughter.

Earlier as well, Lone’s emergence as the saffron party’s ally in Kashmir at the cost of ‘whining’ traditionalists hadn’t gone down well with many in India’s foggy capital. Even a former Indian Army general and now TV debater, Lt Gen Ata Hasnain, had cautioned Modi government against such move. Gen Hasnain, known for his using “heart as weapon” doctrine argued that “assets like NC and PDP” should be taken onboard on any Kashmir decision.
Perhaps that’s why, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh during his last ‘security review’ visit to Kashmir made it sure to catch up with NC’s Omar Abdullah and PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, along with Delhi’s man of the moment in Kashmir, Governor Satya Pal Malik.
But if another PDP leader known for his brushes with the azadi camp is believed, then his party chief had indeed reached at the ‘breaking point’, amid the onslaught on her party.
“Sajad Lone was using his RSS connections to raise the so-called Third Front in Kashmir at the cost of our political burial,” the leader named defector in 2016 says. “Lone’s friendship with Sangh pracharaks like Indresh Kumar and Ram Madhav was only emboldening him to go hunting in PDP camp.”
Even Mehbooba confirmed how her former Wachi (Pulwama) MLA—whose SPO decamped with a near dozen AK-47s from his official quarter in Srinagar—was pressurised to shift his loyalty, or face jail. While salvaging PDP from Kashmir’s Lone wolf might have motivated PDP to use its old Delhi connections and subsequently floating the idea of grand alliance, for NC it proved to be a big shot in the arm, though.
Kashmir’s grand old party whose last ruler’s tainted record almost made it a pariah party in the Valley had been pleading Raj Bhavan to end the suspended animation of J&K Assembly since 2018 summer, when the “North Pole-South Pole” alliance between PDP and BJP disintegrated in the state. After NN Vohra’s exit as Governor, even Kashmir’s political Governor (Sat Pal Malik) welcomed by NC patron Farooq Abdullah in Kashmir among others, didn’t entertain NC’s repeated pleas.

Interestingly, Omar Abdullah in the face of growing sway and stature of Sajad Lone, ruled out his party’s poll boycott and called NC’s poll abstinence as mere “staying out”. The NC vice president perhaps never sounded so oxymoronic in his political life, as he did that day. Photos: Faisal Khan

“The idea was to support the alliance from outside for a while and let it collapse at an opportune time by withdrawing support and fight new elections,” says a senior NC leader. “The alliance formation was also to cut down the stride of Sajad Lone who was doing politics with a sense of vengeance against us.”  This fall, when Lone made entry into the urban pockets through his former party man, the political turncoat Junaid Mattu, Srinagar’s traditional power holders on boycott mode felt unnerved. “Not only it mobilised our leadership, it also took them out of boycott—which otherwise they were mulling to extend to other elections for the sake of Article 35A,” the NC leader says.
Interestingly, Omar Abdullah in the face of growing sway and stature of Lone, ruled out his party’s poll boycott and called NC’s poll abstinence as mere “staying out”. The NC vice president perhaps never sounded so oxymoronic in his political life, as he did that day.

All these events did make Sajad Lone Kashmir’s mainstream politics’ new showman, who went on to stake claim on government formation with his two seats! The rest of his strength was to come from his ally BJP and PDP’s disgruntled lots. He was too close to form government in J&K, Lone now tells his opponents who once wrote him off.
Before the showdown, Lone would harp on the “dynastic politics” rant, in order to make the idea of “third alternative” relevant in Kashmir. His astute politics, says a Delhi-based commentator, eventually made the archrivals – PDP, NC and Congress – to gang up against him in the form of the so-called grand alliance.
Finally, as both PC and PDP chiefs beckoned Raj Bhavan on a “Eid-e-Milad holiday” to stake claim on the vacant J&K throne, Governor Malik swiftly dissolved the Assembly, fearing ‘massive horse trading’.
But the decision of the man seen as a sitting duck on the Assembly for months did appear like Delhi’s old fire-fighting tactics to douse the rising flames in Kashmir.
While Raj Bhavan’s decision delighted the dual dynasts of Gupkar Road, it literally sent Lone into a tizzy. Days later when Governor Malik feared his ‘anytime ouster’ given how he dislodged Delhi’s man from Kashmir’s game of throne, Lone vowed a comeback in the people’s court.
But in the din of ‘Mission 2019’, these ground developments in Kashmir are hardly resonating at South Block’s Raisina Hill. Although busy raking Ram Mandir issue at the moment, the saffron party is likely to play its Kashmir card in the mainland India, anytime soon. And for that, BJP’s tough political posturing over Kashmir is more than ever relevant today.
Amid this rising political mercury, the dateline for the next and eventful hearing on Article 35A is approaching fast. And in its wake, Jammu and Kashmir has been undergoing a sweeping political change already.
The Modi-led NDA government’s Kashmir revamp is already working in its favour. Some administrative decisions have snowballed into a crisis in the Valley. “One of the underlining motives behind the grand alliance was to stop the growing institutional fiddling in Kashmir, too,” says state Congress chief GA Mir.
Already, tensions have been renewed in the Valley over Governor’s Malik increased fiddling with J&K Bank, LAHDC, SHRC, Law department and other departments. Even Raj Bhavan’s vocal critic, Sajad Lone advises the “selected” man on the saddle to refrain from troubling the already troubled territory.

By wilight of 21 November, Sajad Lone was caught napping by the “dynasts” in the game he seemed to master after the fall of “unholy” alliance. And when the “selected” man in Raj Bhavan finally hammered the last nail in the coffin, a loud laughter lifted the Gupkar’s gloom. And for Sanat Nagar’s Sajad Lone, the end result did sound Shakespearean: Much ado about nothing!

Apart from deputing the first political governor with BJP background, the top runners of bureaucracy and police at the moment in the state are some big names from the mainland India, whose Maoist management skills are now being utilised in “militancy-affected zone”.
Some analysts in Delhi see it Modi government’s way of ‘putting house in order’, despite the raging reactions and resilience on the ground. Behind such mindset, many see the likes of Jitendra Singh, who’s now hell-bent on derecognising the globally-acknowledged Kashmir dispute.
That it’s happening on style of RSS’ urge to undo most of the Indian history revolving around the Muslim era is now a common understanding among the masses in Kashmir. Interestingly, UP’s controversial chief minister lately made a divisive statement, which furthered his party’s agenda on Kashmir. Yogi Aditiyanath said that Hindus and Sikhs in Kashmir were safe under the patronage of Hindu kings with whose fall their debacle started.
“Going by the declared ideology of his party’s fountainhead, he [Yogi] was only highlighting the need to ‘de-Islamise and reclaim Kashmir as a Hindu land’,” says Khalid Bashir Ahmad, Kashmir’s ace historian, who lately debunked some of ancient myths passed as historical facts about Kashmir’s past in his new book, Kashmir: Exposing The Myth Behind The Narrative.
It would be naïve to believe that Aditiyanath is not acquainted with the current situation in Kashmir – its governing set up in particular, Bashir adds. “BJP has already put Kashmir on the ‘reclaim’ path. All vital departments are headed by persons who profess Malik Sahib’s faith. The emphasis, it seems, is on building a garden of same-colour flowers, an experiment already carried out at the J&K Raj Bhawan.”
That ‘democratic’ process should take roots in Kashmir has been the long war cry of the Modi government. And when its estranged regional ally, PDP, ‘failed’ to act on the Sangh script, the BJP broke alliance with it, and started harping on the development process.
It was in this backdrop that the new governor—whose friendship with the PDP founder and the only Muslim Home Minister of India, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is well-known—walked in the Raj Bhavan with a ‘feel-good-political talk’.
Before the municipal polls, Governor Malik dismissed the “disturbance” in Kashmir as the “limited to certain pockets” affair. Even after the Kulgam civilian killings, the governor decided to play Nero over the piling bodies: “Everything is fine in Kashmir!”
In Delhi, the first political governor’s political posturing served as a morale booster—if not the desired solution to the lingering political problem. “Earlier,” says a Srinagar-based political commentator, “most of the army generals-turned-governors would sound alarmists over Kashmir situation. But this governor is quite a departure. When Modi picked him from Bihar and sent him for Kashmir deputation, it was the well-thought out move to send somebody who would play both the crisis manager as well the change-maker.”
And therefore, even as the “thick-skinned” governor freely talks about Delhi’s misadventures in Kashmir, he still gets away with that. But so far, it seems that Modi government’s calculative gamble has worked. What even the fallen elected government couldn’t do, Malik managed to do with ease – facilitating the polls, Delhi’s long-pending job in Kashmir.
“His [Malik’s] conduct makes him an emissary than a usual appointee in Kashmir,” says a senior Srinagar-based journalist. “He’s playing it like the vintage Mufti: stirring up the hornets’ nest in a bid to prepare the larger political ground for Kashmir’s stepwise integration with the union of India.” Governor Malik’s growing institutional fiddling is seen as the step towards that goal. 

Mehbooba Mufti had reached the ‘breaking point’, amid the onslaught on her party

But this whole Kashmir policy still looks conventional, the ‘desperate for normalcy’ strategy. In this regard, the local bodies’ elections have already gone down as another farcical exercise in Kashmir’s chequered history. Barring some garrisoned towns and selective voter bastions, these elections saw several faceless candidates winning unopposed. On the same style, the Panchayat elections were conducted in the Valley.
“By throwing its weight behind some need-based Kashmiris caught in their own dilemmas and desires, the BJP has enforced a foolhardy change on the ground,” says NC veteran, Mustafa Kamaal. “It also underlines the fact that BJP is trying to kill two birds with one stone: to get mainstream in Kashmir, and to render the other regional parties irrelevant.” This was exactly the fear in NC and PDP camps that forced the archrivals to do the “unthinkable” for achieving the bloodless coup.
By the twilight of 21 November, Sajad Lone was caught napping by the “dynasts” in the game he seemed to master after the fall of “unholy” alliance. And when the “selected” man in Raj Bhavan finally hammered the last nail in the coffin, a loud laughter lifted the Gupkar’s gloom.
And for Sanat Nagar’s Sajad Lone, the end result did sound Shakespearean: Much ado about nothing!

The author is a Srinagar-based research scholar. This cover story appeared in Kashmir Narrator’s December 2018 issue. To subscribe to Narrator’s print edition, mail us here: [email protected] or call at 7298102560

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