It took 30 years after it decided to replace its Chief Minister Syed Mir Qasim with Sheikh Abdullah in 1975 for the Congress to come to power in Jammu and Kashmir.
In fact, Qasim, a Nationalist was unhappy with the development but had to quit as a part of Indira Gandhi’s plan of finding an amicable solution to the J&K problem. But even as Sheikh Abdullah, who shared a special relationship with the Nehru-Gandhi family, assumed office as a Congress CM (the National Conference came to power under him in 1977), Qasim reportedly told Rajiv Gandhi, then a pilot with Indian Airlines at Chandigarh airport that the decision was going to cost the Congress dear and it would not be able to return to power for at least 30 years.
Rajiv Gandhi did not wish to be drawn into any controversy and told Qasim politely that it was something the latter should discuss with his mother and other Congress leaders. Rajiv asserted that he had nothing to do with the decision.
Qasim’s words turned out to be prophetic. It actually took more than 30 years for the Congress to regain the CM’s chair when in 2005 November Ghulam Nabi Azad replaced Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as part of a power-sharing agreement with the PDP. It was also ironical that the Mufti had become the CM in 2002, a position many believed would have been his had Sheikh Abdullah not succeeded Qasim in 1975. He was one of the most promising Congress leaders in the state at that time and was both popular and respected.
The 2002 polls, considered by all, including international observers, as the most fair elections ever conducted in the state, put the National Conference, the ruling party, on the backfoot. It emerged as the single largest party but since the mandate was clearly against its rule in the state, Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar who was defeated in the polls, decided that the NC should sit in the opposition.
The Congress got more seats than the PDP, largely because braving a serious threat to her life, Sonia Gandhi campaigned in various parts of the state. But in order to accommodate the choice of the voters from the valley, the Congress decided to share power with the PDP—a PDP CM for the first three years and for the next three, a Congress CM.
Most sections of the Hurriyat Conference, still something of an enigma, did not participate in the polls.
When the time for a change of guard came in 2005, the Congress Working Committee took the view that the Mufti should be allowed to continue as the reconciliation process was underway and time was needed to complete the healing.
However, swift development followed the earthquake that shook the state and the Congress reversed its decision and instead sent Azad as the CM.
It was in early November that Azad took oath as the CM. His detractors criticised his choice and when I asked him whether it would be a disadvantage for him to occupy the chair since he did not belong to the Valley, Azad had replied in the negative. “I am Kashmiri-speaking and am from Doda. When you write Jammu and Kashmir, I am the ‘and’ part of it’’, he said emphasising that Doda linked Jammu with Kashmir. It is indeed a supreme irony that his action has, in fact, removed the ‘and’ from Jammu and Kashmir and the two regions appear completely divided.
The state looks like Jammu/Kashmir, even Jammu or Kashmir as things stand today. Azad was always regarded as the lucky mascot of the Congress but by one single action, he has not only decimated his party in the state but triggered off a serious divide. The residents of Jammu have taken to the streets to protest against the alleged discrimination against them. The Kashmiris are drifting away from India and the Centre’s efforts to set things rights have so far been totally inadequate.
Of late, we have been hearing an opinion that the Kashmiris must be allowed to gain independence from Indian rule. But it is crystal clear that India considers Kashmir an inseparable part of its territory which means that this is not going to happen. There is also the view that the Kashmiris will never go to Pakistan since they have seen how their brethren are treated in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The contrast could not be greater, those on this side are a very pampered lot. Yet another viewpoint is that if Kashmir gets Independence, it will become a theatre where, given its strategic importance, the Americans and the Chinese may begin their games. All these are points of view and in a democracy, given the situation in Jammu and Kashmir there are bound to be several opinions.
But the immediate task is to find a solution quickly. It is possible that the proposal to temporarily give possession of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board during the duration of the Yatra could cool tempers in Jammu. Once that happens, the Kashmiris could be persuaded to give up their agitation. They should be firmly told enough is enough and that the situation cannot be allowed to aggravate further.
Both the National Conference and the PDP must play their part in helping to restore normalcy. After all, they too have a stake in the future of the state. The Hurriyat needs to be clearly told that unfurling Pakistan flags on Indian soil was totally unacceptable and talks could only be conducted on the premise that the integrity and unity of India is non-negotiable.
The RSS has done well to keep the BJP and its leaders out of the agitation in Jammu. It is now for the PM to take the initiative and ensure that the problem does not remain unattended as so many other issues before this government. It does not matter if the Congress does not come to power in J&K for 30 more years as long as normality is restored. Between us.