SRINAGAR—August is prettiest of all the months in Kashmir. Summers bloom in full and turn the picturesque valley into a centre of indestructible beauty.
Last year, on August 4, just a short distance away from Farooq Abdullah’s fortified bungalow, flocks of ducks with emerald necks were carelessly floating in all directions in Dal lake. The lake then was carpeted with the loveliest green velvet one can imagine, by the sheets of perennial cress. As common Kashmiris were in hordes thronging its banks to beat the summer heat, political leaders were secretly congregating inside Farooq Abdullah’s residence. The air was thick with the tensions about the Government of India likely to scrap Article 370 and Article 35-A. Amid the large contingents of paramilitary military forces passing through the strife torn roads of Kashmir, the locals were busy stocking essentials to prepare for the long-drawn battle. Prolonged lockdowns, tensions and agitations have been Kashmir’s inseparable features since the onset of militancy in the region in 1990.
At sunset and amid the call for the evening prayers reverberating from the loud speakers of the local mosques, patriarch of the National Conference Dr Farooq Abdullah came to the outer lawns of his bungalow to address the press. He was flanked by the spectrum of political leaders-who till yesterday were each other’s arch rivals-PDP led by Mehbooba Mufti, Peoples Conference led by Sajad Gani Lone, CPI (M) led by Mohd Yousuf Tarigami.
As Farooq Abdullah, donning a grey tinted khan suit, began addressing media, he warned the Government of India of the consequences if special status guaranteed by Indian constitution to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is scrapped. The joint announcement that he introduced at that time was called the Gupkar Declaration. It was signed by all Kashmir centric mainstream parties as they kept their political ideologies aside.
Gupkar is a high security zone area in Srinagar located in the base of a hillock in Srinagar known as Koh-e-Suleman or the Suleman Hill. The area houses the residences of almost all high-profile political leaders including Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah.
Next day, on August 5, Kashmir’s special status was abrogated followed by the most brutal crackdown on the region’s political leadership. A majority of the signatories of the Gupkar declaration were detained including Farooq Abdullah.
Nine months later, in March, this year, when the octogenarian was released after eight months of detention, both people and the government had forgotten that anything with the name of Gupkar declaration ever existed. But the old hawk of Kashmir politics was waiting in wings. It was the hope of seeking the revival of his lost name that made him stoically face all the ordeals in detention. On August 20, this year, when few other political leaders were set free, he called the first ever meeting of Gupkar signatories post August 2019 episode. “We have not given up on the Gupkar declaration. We will meet again when all other detained leaders are freed,” he told the anxiously waiting media persons in his Srinagar residence.
People of Kashmir who have been witnessing firsthand the headline hogging tactics of Farooq Abdullah, dismissed the news as yet another attempt of NC patriarch to stay in the limelight and political discussions. “We have seen Farooq Abdullah performing these stunts in the past as well. Days before the Article 370 abrogation, he was seen chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai in a jampacked auditorium with Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in audience seats. We have seen him dancing with Bollywood stars on open stages. There was nothing that Kashmiris were expecting from his Gupkar declaration rants. The image that mainstream politicians carry in peoples’ minds has been cryptic since decades,” says Altaf Hussain, a Srinagar based businessman.
However, what is making people stare now towards Gupkar are senior Abdullah’s recent hard-hitting statements against New Delhi. On October 16, two days after being released from 14-month long detention, PDP president and Jammu and Kashmir’s former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti straight away drove to Abdullah’s residence. Moments later, she was joined by other political leaders who were part of the Gupkar declaration last year. This was the time when Gupkar subtly began turning into a new centre with common people too equating the conglomeration with Mahaz-e-Rai Shumari also known as Plebiscite Front which was launched by national conference president and Prime Minister of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir-Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah-after his arrest on August 9, 1953.
According to Ashiq Hussain Bhat, a renowned Kashmiri historian, it is a sickness with Kashmiri politicians that when they are out of power, they talk of right of self-determination of people of Jammu and Kashmir. “It is an incurable cancer that most of Kashmiri Muslim politicians suffer from. When they are in power which they capture by means of electoral malpractices, they never talk of plebiscite. The state becomes an integral part of India and when they are out of power, they start barking,” he writes in his book-Jammu and Kashmir Conflict- The Great Game.
However, according to Professor Hameeda Nayeem, Kashmir’s renowned civil society activist, the need of the hour is that political leadership of Kashmir, irrespective of political ideologies, come together and work on a common minimum program. “No matter whether they are pro-India or anti- India parties. They must come together to fight for the restoration of the core principles of Jammu and Kashmir. There is nothing bad in it if done in the larger interests of the people of the state”, she told India Tomorrow.
Now, what remains to be seen is whether the Gupkar Declaration II takes the shape of a movement in Kashmir’s violence strewn political landscape? Will their demand for restoration of Article 370 become a guiding factor for changing the discourse of Kashmir politics in entirety amid the medley of internal troubles? Time soon is going to unravel many mysteries.
(The views are personal. India Tomorrow does not necessarily agree with the views of the author).