Thursday, November 26, 2020
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Is it the beginning of the end of National Conference

Dr. Romesh Raina

To preserve the Muslim rights,Sheikh Abdullah came to the political fore by defying the Monarchy of Kashmir.By fuelling anti-Dogra sentiment,linked Kashmir to the larger sub-continental anti-British struggle.He played the Islamic card to mobilise the political dissent in Kashmir leaving only the Kashmiri voices to be heard again and again.Formulated along religious lines,it was essentially a Muslim political movement designed against the Hindu Dogra regime.Consequently,it helped Kashmiri victimhood narrative to be peddled for decades and used as an instrument to fill Kashmiri minds with hate.It is against this backdrop he set the ball rolling by laying down his agenda at a time,when the winds of change were howring all over India and the State of J&K being no exception.The unfavourable political climate all around rendered the Monarchy vulnerable and its departure from the scene quite eminent.With his ascendancy therefore to power in post-1947 after a chain of events,the fate of Dogra Monarchy was sealed permanently which saw an end of imperial history of the State.

In his speech on May 17 1946,Sheikh Abdullah said“The tyranny off Dogras has lacerated our souls.It is time for must fight slavery and enter the field of ‘Jihad’ as soldiers.Every man,woman and child will shout ‘Quit Kashmir’.The Kashmiri Nation has expressed its will.I ask for plebiscite on this question”.The religious based Muslim Confernce,precursor of National Conference spearheaded the hate Maharaja campaign and a political agitation against the Hindu Monarchy by arousing the Muslim identity of Kashmir to the discomfort of minorities.By demonising the State as’Dogra Raj’,it came to be viewed as overwhelmingly an anti-minority dispensation,prompted Sikhs and Kashmiri Pandits to show solidarity with Dogra Rajputs.Frightened at theprospect of being pushed to the brink as it evoked the images of dreaded persecution of minorities in the past.The displeasure in the minorities therefore became too apparent at the sharpening and shaping of the muslim minds and likely hood of religious polarisation and communal hate a great possibility.
These were turbulent times for Kashmiri politics as it lies at the root of what went so wrong afterwards.In any case it exposed the flaws that played on the minority fears.Consequently,the cracks in the whole construct started becoming too apparent and to prevent any further damage,the membership of Muslim Conference was opened to all on March 26,1938 irrespective of caste, creed and religion.Subsequently,it was compelled to rename Muslim Conference as National conference on June 11,1939,though it remained overwhelmingly Muslim in membership
and symbolism.
With the accession of the State to India,events moved swiftly which resulted in appointing Sheikh Abdullah as the head of EmergencyAdministration and later as Prime Minister alongside Council of Ministers.It was a momentous change that saw the birth of India’s Kashmir policy.The situation that unfolded was followed by convening the elected Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly in 1951.In any case,Abdullah got three crucial things from Nehru’s India-Prime Ministership of the state,an autonomous status for J&K (Read Article370) and a promise for a plebiscite to satisfy public ego.In the early years of his administration, Abdullah managed to secure a formal end to the Hereditory Dogra monarchy and it was curtains down for Hindu Dogra rule permanently.

Napoleon Bonaparte said“Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand people who are silent”.Nothing can be more true than the quote as regards Kashmir.Coming straight to the point,the meaning of Accession therefore for Sheikh Abdullah was that Kashmir was not in any legal sense part of Pakistan.Consequent to it,he was driving the transformation of Kashmir from Monarchy to“Naya Kashmir”,a vision document of National Conference.He played an interesting interplay of victimhood and politics therefore aquired centrality in the popular narrative.His magna carta for the people was to give a separate distinctive constitutional personality to the State.Because of the constant and forceful struggle the aspirations of Kashmiri Nationalism have been spelt out in Article 370 of the Constitution of India.It inculcated a sense of achievement deja vu in the political actors of the time.
With him being at the helm of affairs,the post 1947 politics of J&K has followed different directions in its three regions.While the Kashmir region has been involved in the politics of contestation of the state’s relationship with India,Jammu’s politics has been scripted by the politics of regional deprivation and regional discrimination.Ladakh’s dominant politics has been characterised by the demand for Union Territory.
The transformative politics played by National Conference left the state where religion and the status of the region became the primary dimension of polarisation which became the foundational text of its politics.It can be explained by taking into account the 75 years of post accession Kashmir separately in first 25 years,second 25 years and third 25 years.
The immediate fall out of first 25 years of post accession Kashmir marks the crucial transfer of political power from Jammu to Kashmir (read Kashmiri Muslims).Fuelled by a shift in political landscape,It marks the beginning of a change in its ideological and political power structure both in substance and complexion.It is further reignited when the Constituent assembly witnessed all its 75 elected legislatures from National Conference,leaving no doubt about the things to follow.Subsequent to it,Sheikh Abdullah gave a different meaning of its powers and scope,when he asserted that“it was one hundred percent sovereign and that no Parliament,be it that of India or of any other Country has authorisation here” (Kashmir: The Storm Centre of the world:Chapter XI).He propagated it as a means to build a State that is outside the constitutional structure of India.The thinking is motivated by retaining a separate identity for the State with emphasis on its Muslim character.Implicit in these measures was a vision for independent Kashmir which was re-enforced on July 10,1953 while speaking at Mujahid Manzil,Sheikh Abdullah said“.A time will therefore come when I will bid them goodbye” .Re-iterating again on Martyrs Day on July 13,1953 that“It is not necessary that our State should become an appendage of either India or Pakistan”.
It sowed the seeds of separatism and from then on separatism became a determinant factor and a dominant political currency in the politics of Kashmir.It sought to reframe the very foundation of Indo-Kashmir relations.The cumulative effects of all these disabilities was that an atmosphere of extreme hostilities and suspicion was built which eventually became an instrument to fulfil his political agenda to determine the finality of accession with India.This positioning and attitude was of great concern to the Central leadership resulting in the dismissal of his Government in 1953 but not before the damage had been done.
The entry to the next 25 years period is marked by what Antonio Gramsci famously wrote in 1930“The old is dying and new cannot be born”.In this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear accompanied by unwillingness to accept Kashmir’s embrace of Indian identity.With the firmly rooted political dilemma and equally supported by”Rai Shumari” movement (Plebiscite) the presentation of next 25 years becomes more understandable in terms of its unmistakable shift.The successful political transition therefore looked like a mirage with symptoms of dysfunction multiplying at a rapid pace.However the Beg-Parthasarthy political accord of 1975 between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi constitutes the high point of this period in terms of his political rehabilitation.In essence the accord did not change the constitutional relationship between the State and the Centre but
succeeded in laying down some guidelines regarding Article 370,its limitations and scope.It was a unique arrangement where a non Congressi was the Chief Minister with Congress support. Not content with the arrangement,Sheikh Abdullah revived National Conference,seen as an unwelcome step by Indira Gandhi,Congress party on March 26,1977 withdrew its support to Sheikh Abdullah who responded by calling Congress leaders as“dirty insects in a street gutter”.
With his monoply and total control over power structure,Sheikh Abdullah was returned to power with a massive mandate bagging 50 seats out of 75 in J&K Legislative Assembly elections held in 1977.The mandate strengthened his authoritarian streak and with the adoption of "The Jammu & Kashmir Grant of Permit for Resettlement in (or Permanent Return to) the State Act 1982", added fuel to the already strained Centre State relations.As per the bill "any person who was a state subject before 14 May, 1954 and has migrated to Pakistan after 1947 could be recommended for resettlement in the state on scrutiny by the state authorities”.Subsequent to it,the Islamisation of Kashmir began with full force and the names of about 2500 villages were changed from their original names to Islamic names including Anantnag to Islamabad.Not only that but withdrawal of cases against 30 hardcore Al-Fatah activists left deep scars and were never seen as a good augury.
After leaving his footprints on the politics and an indelible mark on the history of Kashmir,Sheikh Abdullah breathed his last on September 8,1982.
The succeeding 25 years are overshadowed by the hubris of power of previous almost 50 years.Subsequent to it,the divisive narrative already in place attained great momentum and the most disconcerting outcome is the politically wounded status quo.In the meantime Kashmir witnessed substantive political changes,its main elements include change and emergence of new political leadership of National Conference,Rajiv-Farooq Accord and militarised Muslim insurgency.Resultantly the finality of accession came to the fore once again this time but in a combatant militarised shape and continues to occupy the centerstage thenceforwards.Eversince the Valley continues to be in a war mode.
History’s pitfalls and blood stains are not unique to Kashmir.Thus the study and honest introspection of the past will only bring discomfort and pain.In contextualising and analysing therefore the political dynamics of Kashmir is the National Conference steering the Valley towards one party State an unpalatable reality.

The Prime Minister Narinder Modi said“The problem in Kashmir is largely due to 50 odd families there.They have been milking the issue.They don’t want any benefit to be given to ordinary Kashmiris”.With the decision to rescind the article 370,Government of India has radically altered the status of Kashmir and a beginning of an entirely new narrative.When seen from the context of Gupkar declaration,National Conference its dramatis personae ensues the edifice built on patronage and corruption crumbling.With this view,forging of the new ruling Muslim elite mostly confined to Muslim politicians of Kashmir becomes understandable.
In this giant rigmarole of refusals,the shrinking space for National Conference becomes too apparent.To understand the phenomenon,one needs to have a quick look at its inceptional history which starts with its giant political entry without conceding any political space to the opposition.With its political rigidities at crucial times,increased its existential threat perception and to stay afloat in changing realities it sometimes merged with Congress to become its branch in J&K and sometimes ruled in alliance with it but its core constituency remained Kashmir.It therefore ceased to be a state level party which becomes clear from the fact that it could not find even a single candidate in 2014 and 2019 for Parliamentry elections either from Jammu or Ladakh.In 2014, the NC supported both the Congress candidates in Jammu,including Ghulam Nabi Azad and both,lost the election to the BJP and suffered a humiliating defeat.With 84.27% land area of both Jammu and Ladakh,the lack of its visible support base there is self explanatory in terms of its representative character.The resultant polluted political environment led to the emrgence of anti-accession forces in a big way.
The cascading effect and its unmanagible consequences on the ground are that the National Conference is a pale shadow of its old self,shrunk in size and influence. Formation of Gupkar alliance is situated in the apprehension of its political isolation like Congress in the rest of the Country.By forging an alliance,protestations for the return of artcle 370 is largely an exercise for its self preservation at the same time to whip up the anti-centre hysteria.The realities in Kashmir are changed and to re-invent mainstream politics there the polity has to evolve a pragmatic political agenda,not necessarily a Muslim centric and Muslim specific.

(Author is a Social activist and Doctor by profession)Feedback:[email protected])

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