By Ishfaq-ul-Hassan –
Last week, National Conference (NC) sent feelers to end the boycott of the Centre’s delimitation commission. It marked a significant shift in the NC’s policy post-August 5, 2019 when the Centre abrogated Article 370 and downgraded Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
Under Reorganization Act, 2019, the Union Territory of J&K will have an Assembly while Ladakh will not. Under the Act, the number of seats in the J&K Assembly would be increased from 107 to 114 after delimitation.
According to the Delimitation Commission Act, 2002, the Delimitation Commission appointed by the Centre has to have three members –serving or retired judge of the Supreme Court as the chairperson, and the Chief Election Commissioner or Election Commissioner nominated by the CEC and the State Election Commissioner as ex-officio members.
In February last year, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora named Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra as his nominee to the Delimitation Commission. On March 6 last year, the Centre appointed former Supreme Court judge, Justice (Retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai as head of the Delimitation Commission.
Later in May 2020, Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla nominated three NC MPs —Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone, and Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi – as members of the Delimitation Commission.
National Conference was quick to denounce the commission and announce to boycott the future meetings. “The Delimitation Commission is a product of the J&K Re-organization Act 2019 which NC is challenging in and outside the Supreme Court. Participating in the commission tantamount to accepting events of August 5, 2019, which NC is unwilling to do. National Conference, therefore, rejects this process and its three members of the parliament will not participate in it,” National Conference said in May last year.
A year on, NC has been desperately trying to mend fences with the Centre. NC and other parties have challenged the abrogation of Article 370 in the Supreme Court. So far there has been no headway in the case. Party is increasingly feeling isolated as the Centre is implementing its agenda steadily in Kashmir.
What has prompted NC’s rethink is the “death” of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Alliance (PAGD). For the last many months, PAGD has withdrawn into a shell. There has been no meeting or any policy statement from the alliance.
Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), comprise National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peoples Conference, Awami National Conference, CPIM and Jammu, and Kashmir Peoples Movement. The conglomerate was formed to fight for the restoration of the special status and statehood of Jammu and Kashmir.
Interestingly, the NC president is the head of PAGD. The pressure of investigating agencies is also forcing NC to rethink its policies. Last October, Farooq was summoned twice by Enforcement Directorate and questioned for five hours in the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association scam.
Differences started cropping up in the PAGD after the District Development Council (DDC) polls. People’s Conference led by Sajad Lone parted ways accusing the bigger parties of fielding proxy candidates.
Prior to the abrogation of Article 370, Sajad was an ally of the BJP. Despite having only two MLAs in the previous Assembly, he was made minister from the BJP quota in the PDP-led government.
When National Conference and Congress joined hands to form the government, Sajad went to the then governor Satya Pal Malik with a letter to form the government with the support of the BJP. Malik dissolved the House though PDP, NC, and Congress had a two-thirds majority.
After the abrogation of special status, Sajad mend fences with Kashmir-based parties and joined PAGD. However, after the DDC polls, he parted ways again over proxy candidates.
In fact, Sajad was the spokesman of PAGD when he quit the alliance to chart out his independent political journey. His elder brother Bilal Gani Lone heads another faction of PC which is a part of the separatist Hurriyat Conference.
Split within the PAGD has been widening for quite some time. Distrust within the ranks is making things difficult. Farooq’s statement on 1984 power play when his brother in law Ghulam Mohammad Shah toppled his government and became chief minister did not go down well with his son Muzaffar Shah. Muzaffar, who is vice president of Awami National Conference, an ally of PAGD, took strong objections to Farooq’s statement. PAGD is brain dead and only the announcement is to be made. All six political parties are trying to revive their fortunes rather than focusing on combinations and permutations. Time is not far away when PAGD will officially be dissolved. Till then, it is alive on papers.
(Author is senior editor at The Kashmir Monitor. Views expressed are personal. Feedback at [email protected])