Srinagar :Breakups, new alignments and turncoats dominated Kashmir’s mainstream politics in 2021 even as the BJP-led Central government appeared unwavering in its commitment to “fully integrating” the fledgling Union Territory with the country politically.
The Centre has shown no concern for growing opposition to its moves in the Kashmir Valley.
As the year drew to a close, the Delimitation Commission gave the Centre a reason to cheer as it proposed six new legislative seats for Jammu and only one for Kashmir.
If the proposal is accepted, the share of Jammu, the BJP’s power centre, in the assembly will increase from 37 to 43, only four less than the Valley’s 47. The proposal has left the Valley’s parties fuming.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had at an all-party meeting with J&K politicians in June favoured early competition of the exercise, promising return of statehood only after fresh delimitation and assembly elections.
Political parties in the Kashmir Valley opposed the delimitation exercise and favoured elections after restoration of statehood.
The government this week signed MoUs with top real estate companies to construct housing and commercial infrastructure in a move seen as a fresh attempt to invite non-locals to the Union Territory.
This year, the politicians opposed to such changes stepped up their activities and held rallies, conventions and meetings in various districts of J&K.
While the active politics remained mostly on the sidelines in the Valley, the theatre shifted to the Muslim belt of Jammu.
But the mainstream parties seemed to be struggling to keep their flock together.
The year began with Peoples Conference President Sajad Lone pulling out of Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of Jammu and Kashmir’s mainstream parties demanding restoration of Article 370.
The year also saw some stalwarts leaving their parties.
A political ripple was created this year when Davinder Singh Rana, the Jammu President of the National Conference and a close aide to Omar Abdullah, quit the party and joined the BJP. Rana was Omar Abdullah’s political advisor when he was the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir from 2009 to 2014.
Top politicians Nizamuddin Bhat, Javid Mustafa Mir, Basharat Bukhari switched parties.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s return to local politics has made the equation interesting. While Azad has not parted ways from the Congress, his shows of strength were aimed at sending a message to the party leadership as to who controls the party in the state.
The year saw the Centre make a maiden outreach to the Valley politicians, dubbed “Gupkar Gang”, in the wake of scrapping of the special status to the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the politicians in June where he vowed to remove “dil ki doori” as well as “Dilli se doori.”
A former head of the Political Science department at Kashmir University, Prof Noor Ahmad Baba, said hope emerged when Modi called a meeting with J&K politicians.
“There was some hope when the Prime Minister conveyed at an all-party meeting but I don’t think there was any follow up. Statehood has not been restored. Democracy has not been restored and elections are not visible. And the process of Delimitation has been started. All this has created doubts in Kashmir region,” he said
He said it has been a year of uncertainty.
“Democracy has remained suspended for a long time. Very important decisions which have long term implications for the state have been made and that has created an element of uncertainty among the people,” he said.
For separatists, Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Geelani’s passing away proved to be the last nail. Geelani, 92, died on September 1 after a prolonged illness in Srinagar where he was under house arrest for years. Fearing trouble, he was buried at night hurriedly.
Separatists have been throttled and many top leaders languish in jails. Moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq continues to be under house detention. The separatist sentiment, however, remains a major narrative in the Valley.