Politics and priorities underwent a paradigm shift after the abrogation of Article 370 in J&K as political parties are preparing their course correction for the forthcoming Assembly elections.
There are perceptible changes in the general attitude of local as well as the national mainstream political leaders towards the people in J&K now.
Before August 5, 2019, everything else had to wait because all local mainstream politicians were busy ‘working for more internal autonomy’.
This campaign was projected differently by different political parties and yet the proclaimed objective was the same.
What the National Conference (NC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peoples Conference (PC) and some other Kashmir-centric parties differed on was the means to achieve that goal.
The NC called it the ‘autonomy document’, PDP called it ‘self-rule’ and the PC called it the ‘vision document’.
The clamour for internal autonomy vanished after the very article of the Indian Constitution that gave special status to J&K was abrogated by the country’s Parliament.
Those ‘fighting’ for more internal autonomy were shocked beyond words when the abrogation of the special status came together with the downgrading of the state into a UT.
The NDA government at the Centre had, in a single stroke, taken away the wind from the sails of the local political parties.
This resulted in a storm of sorts for the ‘internal autonomy’ seekers. The NC, PDP, PC and other smaller local political parties took time to come to grips with the epochal development.
Different equations generated different currents, under currents and counter currents. There was a newfound space in the mainstream political camp in the state.
This space could be taken over by rivals and critics within and outside the well entrenched parties.
Tough competition was awaiting the hitherto well-entrenched parties those had made autonomy and allied issues their political elixir for decades.
Electoral battles can no longer be fought by promising something that is beyond the constitutional power of any local assembly even if a single or the alliance of any number of parties were to get two-third majority during the Assembly elections.
“You can only fight the battle for restoration of article 370 in the Supreme Court and in no case by winning an assembly election.
“Thus to promise restoration of article 370 if voted to power in the UT is like promising to go to moon on a bicycle, ” said Syed Altaf Bukhari, the chief of J&K Apni Party.
The BJP on the other hand has its electoral agenda cut and dried for the forthcoming Assembly elections.
“We promised to dismantle all barricades between J&K and the rest of the country and we have done that. We now promise better tourism, education, healthcare, industries, electricity, roads and other infrastructure. That is something we can achieve and we deliver on the promises we make during elections,” said a senior BJP leader.
The Kashmir centrist parties, NC, PDP, Awami NC and some others have formed an alliance called the Peoples alliance for Gupkar declaration (PAGD).
PAGD stands for restoration of J&K’s special status. Will the alliance members fight the Assembly elections together or separately is still unresolved.
While NC vice president, Omar Abdullah, said the NC would field its candidates for all the 90 Assembly seats, his father and NC president, Farooq Abdullah, said that would only be decided after the elections are announced.
When he resigned after 52 years from the Congress, former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad formed his own political party which he first called Democratic Azad Party (DAP) and later changed its name to Progressive Azad Party (PAP).
Azad belongs to Doda district of Jammu division and he is quite popular in the Chenab Valley districts. He has decided to fight the forthcoming Assembly elections.
Azad has said he won’t promise that he will bring back the state’s special status, but would fight for it.
More than posing a serious challenge to the BJP, Azad is likely to cut into the vote bank of the Congress, NC and the PDP. That for the rivals of the NC and the PDP in the BJP would be a good news.
What now worries the local political parties and also the centrist political parties is the likely emergence of a large number of youth who could join the elections as Independent candidates.
How much ice these Independent candidates will cut with the people remains to be seen and yet there is no denying the fact that whatever gains are made by these individual contestants during the forthcoming Assembly elections would result in direct losses to the traditional political parties.