A new political alternative being catalyzed by the Centre is starting to take shape in Kashmir with some senior leaders such as PDP patron and former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beig and several young aspiring politicians ready to look beyond the abrogation of Article 370, and willing to start afresh a dialogue with the people and engage with New Delhi.
The first signs were visible when a group comprising three prominent politicians, some businessmen and activists met an unofficial delegation of Members of European Parliament (MEPs) at a lunch hosted by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval in New Delhi Monday.
It is early days, but the Centre hopes this will restart conversations and slowly fill the political void created following the arrest of almost all notable politicians and prominent workers of mainstream parties in the Valley including the BJP’s closest ally People’s Conference. The Centre said these arrests were necessary in the wake of the August 5 decision to do away with the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories on October 31.
Besides Beig, those who made it to the NSA’s lunch include former minister Altaf Bukhari and Congress general secretary and former lawmaker Usman Majeed. They said they were there in their individual capacity, giving weight to the belief that a new political alternative is coming up. Two second-rung Congress leaders Farooq Andrabi and Channi Singh too met the European delegation in Srinagar.
“It is too early to say,” Beig, who played an important role in bridging an alliance between PDP and BJP in 2015, told The Indian Express. “First, you should have some agreement on some agenda, then only you can form some political platform – either a new one will come up or an old one could be revived,” he said.
“We will talk to political leaders, to civil society. We will keep our point of view before them,” Beig said. “Then we will tell Government of India, not with belligerence – nothing will come out of belligerence – I believe we have to gently tell them we want statehood in future, not today or tomorrow, in the foreseeable future.”
A former Parliamentarian, Beig also said he was willing to talk to Bukhari, a prominent businessman who joined politics in 2014 and rose to become an important minister in the PDP-BJP coalition. Bukhari is one of the few mainstream leaders who had not been detained after August 5. A close aide of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, he was thrown out of the PDP by Mehbooba Mufti for his “anti-party” activities.
Congress’s Usman Majeed is a former counter-insurgent who became a politician — once a part of the infamous Ikhwan in the Valley. In fact, the party has distanced itself from his decision to attend the NSA’s lunch. “We have issued him a show-cause notice and asked him to explain his position. Show-cause notices have also been served on Andrabi and Channi Singh who met the MEPs in Srinagar,” Congress state president Ghulam Ahmad Mir told The Indian Express.
The mainstream political parties see the meeting of the Kashmiri leaders with Doval as an attempt to install a new political formation in the Valley. “The Centre has been unambiguously saying that they want to replace the existing leadership in the Valley. Monday’s meeting seems a step in that direction. New Delhi wants to foist another leader on us,” said another senior Congress leader who did not wish to be named.
Apart from politicians, several businessmen and journalists including Sandeep Chattoo and Shamim Meraj, co-owners of the Real Kashmir Football Club, and Ayaz Gani, publisher and editor of Srinagar-based English daily Rising Kashmir, were also present at the lunch.
The government is also banking on the emergence of a new crop of political leaders from panchayats and municipal bodies. Touseef Raina, a young activist and aspiring politician from Baramulla who contested the municipal polls last year but lost, said: “If they (any new political alternative) have a good vision, a better understanding, ways to get Kashmir out of this mess, we would love to be part of such a party.”
According to Raina, the political instability (in Kashmir) is because of the mainstream and the Hurriyat. “The aim of the mainstream politicians was to grab power, they believed in power politics but our politics would be pro-people. Though I am not part of any party or group, there are like-minded people with me who want to be part of the system,” he said.
Mehraj Khurshid Malik, a south Kashmir resident and a computer engineer who unsuccessfully contested the parliamentary polls, is one of these young men being encouraged by the establishment. “There are lots of people, who think there is no other alternative than to build a new political front,” he said.
Malik who claims to be putting together a group of over 1,000 activists said people have tried to ignore politics out of anger and vengeance. “We need to change that trend and the only way to change the trend is a new leadership. And before the elite again catch up with something, it is better that we come up with our own set of ideas, vision,” he said.