December 12, 2020
Hello and welcome to All Indians Matter. I am Ashraf Engineer.
A new term has been introduced into the political lexicon – ‘Gupkar Gang’. What exactly is the meaning of this term coined by Union Home Minister Amit Shah? And what exactly did he mean when he called it an “unholy global gathbandhan”? With the abrogation of Article 370 that withdrew the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the state was already up in arms. Now, the political temperature is rising as both sides prepare for a long and unyielding face-off.
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, or PAGD, is a grouping of parties that is demanding the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, which was revoked by the Narendra Modi government in August 2019. This was accompanied by the posting of even more armed forces in what is already one of the world’s most militarised regions.
On August 4, 2019, a day before the Modi government announced the abrogation of Article 370, several political parties in Kashmir met at the home of National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah at Gupkar Road in Srinagar. It was there that they adopted a declaration to restore Jammu and Kashmir’s status and it’s from the address that the declaration got its name.
The signatories included the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party, the Communist Party of India – Marxist, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, the Awami National Conference and the Indian National Congress.
This was the first Gupkar Declaration.
It was followed by the detention of top political leaders like Abdullah, his son Omar and People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti.
On August 22, 2020, a year after the declaration, six political parties met again to reassert their commitment to the restoration of Article 370 in what came to be known as the ‘Gupkar Declaration II’.
This grouping of parties evolved into a political alliance and in October 2020 adopted as its symbol the official flag of the then erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. This was followed by another meeting on October 24 at the home of Mehbooba Mufti, where the alliance formally took the name of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. Farooq Abdullah was unanimously elected chairperson of the alliance, with Mufti as vice-chairperson.
While all these parties have been rivals in the past, they have set aside their differences to unite against the Central Government’s move – perhaps something that Home Minister Amit Shah had not bargained for and what prompted the ‘Gupkar Gang’ outburst.
Mufti hit back, saying Shah’s Bharatiya Janata Party could stitch as many alliances as it wants “in its hunger for power” but when they do it it’s “undermining national interest”.
This, she pointed out, is part of a well-used tactic to term anyone that opposes the BJP as “anti-national”. For example, during the 2016 student protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the agitators were termed the “tukde tukde gang” – a term applied also to those who protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Registry of Citizens last year. Calling the tactic stale and predictable, Mufti added that the BJP projects itself as a “saviour” and opponents as “internal and imagined enemies”.
The first order of business for the alliance was the Jammu and Kashmir District Development Council elections, the results of which were awaited when this episode was recorded. They were important because they marked the resumption of electoral processes after the abrogation of Article 370. However, the announcement of the election was followed by several workers of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration being arrested or detained while campaigning.
The BJP saw the election as a verdict on the withdrawal of the state’s special status and wanted to win at all costs. It was important also because of the international spotlight on Kashmir. While the BJP has been insisting that it was life as usual there after the abrogation, global media outlets such as the BBC have reported protests and deep anguish across the Valley.
While there can be no argument over whether or not Kashmir is a part of India, how you treat it is critical to the outcomes you want to achieve. It’s had a special status since Independence, part of a commitment India made to it when it joined the union. A withdrawal of this status without consultation with the people and its political leadership could have had only one outcome – turmoil.
Critics have argued that the abrogation of Article 370 and the resultant political heat were a handy diversion for a government that hasn’t delivered on most fronts – from economic growth to employment or rule of law. This has only been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ill-conceived lockdown.
Recently, India suffered its first ever technical recession – one in which several industries shut and millions of jobs were lost. The hardship was felt most intensely by those at the bottom of the pyramid. This was followed by farm laws – again, rammed through without knowing the views of those they affected. Farmers across the country were naturally up in arms and eventually laid siege to Delhi.
Turbulence is a convenient distraction but long-term solutions come from consultation, real economic development and – most importantly – trust. You don’t get that by imposing a Constitutional change, detaining political leaders and breaking promises.
Thank you all for listening. Please visit www.allindiansmatter.in for more columns and audio podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter at @AshrafEngineer and @AllIndiansCount. Search for the All Indians Matter page on Facebook. On Instagram, the handle is @AllIndiansMatter. Catch you again soon.
Picture: Wikimedia Commons