On August 20th, 2020, for the first time after Article 370 has been revoked by India in Jammu and Kashmir, the six mainstream political parties in Kashmir held a meeting. After what has been a year of raids, detentions and a strict lockdown in the region, the political authorities in Kashmir met up at the residence of NC president, Farooq Abdullah as per his invitation. Presiding over the National Conference (NC) is Farooq Abdullah, with Omar Abdullah, his son, as the party’s chairman. A similar meeting was held last August, attended by political parties in the region including People’s Democratic Party, Bharatiya Janata Party, People’s Conference and the Jammu Kashmir People’s Movement. It unanimously decided on their goal to advocate for J&K’s sovereignty and right for autonomy, in what came to be known as the Gupkar Declaration.

After last year’s meeting, however, many political players were detained. Ever since then, New Delhi has enforced strict measures to force the Kashmir region to comply with its new Union Territory status. This year, the government submitted before the High Court and declared that no NC leader was under detention and they were free to move about. The meeting was attended by NC’s top leadership including Ali Mohammad Sagar, Abdul Rahim Rather, Mohammad Shafi Uri and Nasir Aslam Wani as well as NC parliamentarians including Husnain Masoodi & Akbar Lone. Others present at the meeting included the People’s Democratic Party, Sajjad Lone’s Congress People’s Conference, CPM and Awami National Conference.

However, many, of those present at the Gupkar Declaration, have since then joined the new Jammu Kashmir Apni Party, which has been called a pro-Delhi political organization and even a proxy of the BJP. The NC has spoken up against this compliance along with other political parties which have expressed their interest to side with the public for whom this Indian move of abrogation is a clear ‘humiliation’ and disregard for Kashmiri empowerment. As a result, New Delhi’s tactics to force compliance have completely failed.

The National Conference originally founded as the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference in 1932 is a major political party in the Jammu and Kashmir region. Originally founded to serve Muslim interests in the region it has since reformed and now advocates the interests of all Kashmiris regardless of religion. Although inconsistently, the party has remained in power and maintained the autonomy of Kashmir under Article 370, and so the dissolution of the Article in 2019 has been at odds with the party’s interests.

This newly headed meeting has had no precedent in the previous year, which was due to the fact that India’s BJP was the only party that conducted any activity in the region and regional political parties had not figured out how to build an essential degree of correspondence with one another because of the restrictive controls forced by the government in the previous year. The new meeting has, however, been a step in the direction towards empowering the Kashmiri voice in that it has produced a joint declaration of the mainstream political players which removes any ambiguity as to their ambitions for Kashmir.

What is truly surprising about this new coalition is that it goes to show that it has now become evident to local players that India will always view the Kashmir issue with a religious binary perspective, leaving no room for compromise. About this new joint-declaration, BJP has stated that the move was nothing but “an attempt by leaders to show their political presence.” However, Pakistan has been quick to show support for Farooq Abdullah’s statements. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has termed the meeting as a ‘political resistance movement.’

The joint declaration produced in this meeting states that all parties have placed the restoration of Kashmir’s special status at utmost priority, and all other political ambitions will be subservient to this goal. This is significant since it entails that no political decision will be in contradiction to any step towards a more autonomous Kashmir. Furthermore, it has called for the reinstatement of Article 35A which was Kashmir’s separate constitution under Article 370.

Omar Abdullah of the NC stated that the move confirmed their worst fears, as India’s BJP had been propagating the agenda of removing Kashmir’s special status in its polls for decades yet it is humiliating that a semi-autonomous state downgrades to the status of a mere union region. It is certainly against the empowerment and dignity of local life and culture. The separation of Ladakh and Kashmir via the formation of the two separate Unions is also a cause for concern since it violates the view of the Muslim-majority in Ladakh which does not desire to be separated from Jammu and Kashmir.

While BJP and Pro-India analysts have called these measures ineffective and a mere show of fading political power, such statements betray their objective to disempower and suppress local political voice even more. An unprecedented union of this nature is sure to represent the unambiguous voice of the Kashmiri’s more clearly in the international community and would urge the UNSC to act in accordance with the wishes of the local Kashmiri populace.

The National Conference along with the joint-party coalition has vowed to oppose the new union status of Kashmir along with the destruction of their democratic rights. Omar Abdullah has declared that he will not contest in any Assembly elections hereon until the said Assembly has been empowered again. The NC aims to work to restore the party, carry on its agenda and represent the people of Kashmir under these dire circumstances.

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