Gupkar Alliance at Crossroads: Towards Cooperation or Dissolution?

Gupkar Alliance at Crossroads: Towards Cooperation or Dissolution?

On August 4, 2019, a day before the abrogation of Article 370, regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir met at the residence of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah on Gupkar Road in Srinagar, forming the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), also known as the Gupkar Alliance. They vowed to defend Article 370 and warned the BJP against proceeding with the move.

But, the BJP went ahead and abrogated Article 370 the next day, dividing Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories—Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Many political leaders, including three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah (also the NC vice president), and Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP – were detained.

The BJP prevented a backlash to the Article 370 move by imposing a lockdown and communication blackout in Jammu and Kashmir. While some political leaders were later released from detention, the three former chief ministers were freed months later after their detention was challenged in the Supreme Court.

In the District Development Council (DDC) polls in October 2020, the Gupkar Alliance put up an impressive show, winning half of the 220 seats in the UT. The BJP emerged as the single largest party, securing 75 seats.

However, the saffron party’s expectation that the Gupkar Alliance would boycott the polls in protest against the abrogation of Article 370, allowing the BJP to win more seats and make inroads into the bastions of regional parties, did not materialise.

After the DDC polls, Sajjad Gani Lone of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference quit the Gupkar Alliance, citing lack of support from the alliance partners to the joint candidates put forward in the polls, especially in Kupwara, his hometown.

Since the DDC polls, the BJP has made significant changes in Jammu and Kashmir through delimitation and constitutional amendments, bolstering the political influence of Hindu-majority Jammu, the party’s stronghold.

Now, Jammu holds 43 seats and Kashmir 47 of 90, potentially electing 32-35 Hindu representatives. The delimitation also proposed five nominations, potentially benefiting the BJP.

The Gupkar Alliance was hoping the Supreme Court would restore Article 370 and statehood to Jammu and Kashmir. However, on December 11, the court upheld the Article 370 move by the BJP, leaving regional parties shattered.

The apex court’s decision has come as the last straw for the regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir, and also for the Gupkar Alliance.

What has rattled the Gupkar Alliance the most is that despite acknowledging the assurance of Jammu and Kashmir’s eventual restoration of statehood, the court showed no urgency in reinstating democracy in the former state.

A frustrated Omar Abdullah said he was going “off-grid”, post the Supreme Court’s decision, and the Delhi High Court’s dismissal of his divorce plea a day later. Farooq Abdullah, too, expressed frustration about the lack of development and elections in the region.

After the Supreme Court verdict, the Gupkar Alliance now faces an uncertain future, especially because the NC believes that continuing with the alliance may not hold political benefits anymore. But, observers believe that joining forces, like in the DDC polls, is still the best bet for the regional parties to take on the BJP.

But that is easier said than done as the NC believes that departing from the alliance could prove advantageous in the imminent Lok Sabha polls and subsequent assembly elections.

The PDP, its main rival before the reading down of Article 370, has suffered serious setbacks. Many of its leaders and elected members who joined the party during its founding by Mufti Muhammad Sayyed in the late 90s, shifted their allegiance.

Observers believe that Mehbooba Mufti has handled confronting the BJP and its Kashmir policies better than other leaders, boosting the morale of PDP supporters.

Apart from the PDP, the Congress and the CPI(M) also advocate a united stand against the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir.

There are smaller parties in Jammu like the National Panthers Party, Mission Statehood, and Dogra Swabhimani Sangathan who are willing to collaborate with the Gupkar Alliance. But, without the NC, the alliance is unlikely to stop the BJP. The collapse of the alliance will also benefit the BJP in Muslim-majority areas of Jammu as the Muslim vote will be divided between regional parties while the minority Hindu vote, will rally behind the BJP.

The NC has also made it clear in the INDIA bloc meetings that there should be no seat-sharing arrangement on the Lok Sabha seats won by the alliance partners in the last polls. The NC won all three Lok Sabha seats in the Kashmir region in the last elections, while the BJP won the remaining three – two in Jammu and one in Ladakh. Such a stand by the NC makes it clear that the party is no longer keen on any pre-poll alliance with any party, sealing the fate of Gupkar Alliance much to the delight of the BJP. Source

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