After all, isn’t this a part of electoral democratic process that new political formations be allowed consistently within the framework of constitutionality, especially when old and established political parties fail to inspire people? Why is it that unlike other regions of India, there is a tradition of rather “undemocratic intolerance” for the emergence of “Third Front” in Kashmir valley? And nothing explained this “democratic curse of Kashmir” more aptly than the pathetic “twitter alliance” between two main Kashmir based political parties along with a prominent national political party that indulged in a social media drama, making Kashmir politics a butt of jokes in the entire world.
Historically, the “Third Front” has always been forced to remain a peripheral political entity in the electoral politics of Jammu & Kashmir state in general and that of Kashmir valley in particular. The Kashmir valley’s prominent grand old party – National Conference & Indian National Congress have dominated electoral politics of Kashmir valley and Jammu region respectively for most of the time since 1947, wherein political power largely oscillated between these two political entities.
While the National Conference has remained a private monopoly of Sheikh Family, which has personally enriched immensely through their largely unquestioned and undemocratic stranglehold over National Conference, the J&K state unit of Congress has been repository of mostly handpicked sycophants of Delhi based Congress high command. This NC – Congress alternative and joint collaboration during different times has been nothing more than an opportunistic power grab that benefited Sheikh family as well as few other Congress backed Kashmiri families, with aam aadmi in Kashmir valley, Jammu region and Ladakh having remained untouched by full potential of economic development that the state of Jammu & Kashmir was actually capable of in last 7 decades.
The “Third Front” in the form of smaller parties based on sub regional and religious identities have always been part of the political spectrum of Jammu & Kashmir’s electoral politics like Jammu region’s All Jammu & Kashmir Praja Parishad that remained a prominent political player in 1950s and 60s in plains of Jammu, but the arrogant, elitist and corrupt political nexus and (said as well as unsaid) alliance between Congress and NC belittled these early “Third Front” parties of Jammu region as “right wing” even as these two parties portrayed themselves as sole “secular” and “representative” political entities from Kashmir valley and Jammu region respectively. It didn’t matter to them that these “right wing” parties (as they called them) had won mandate of the people of Jammu region and won seats in the Jammu & Kashmir assembly.
In the year 1987, entire Jammu & Kashmir state in general and Kashmir valley in particular had to pay an extremely heavy price for this collective arrogance, corruption and greed for power of J&K’s unofficial two-party system (NC – Congress), when this unholy alliance of greedy, corrupt, discredited and much despised political arrangement ended up stifling and shamelessly crushing the emergence of Muslim United Front – an urban young Kashmiri student driven political initiative that sought to create the space for the “Third Front” in Kashmir valley as an alternative to much hated, corrupt and despised Sheikh family run NC and high command run J&K unit of Congress. The blatant, brazen and shameless stealing of mandate of 1987 by the unholy alliance of NC – Congress not only successfully destroyed the democratic and constitutional emergence of MUF as “Third Front” in Jammu & Kashmir’s electoral political space, it also destroyed Kashmir valley and pushed it abyss of unending death and destruction from which Kashmir valley has still not being able to come out.
The emergence of People’s Democratic Party was the first successful allowance of “Third Front” (as an alternative to the duo of NC – Congress) on the political scene of Kashmir valley. Though technically, PDP was an extension of Congress as its chief patron, Late Mufti Mohammad Syed was a former Congressmen, who was from Congress party culture, the political party that he found was rooted in Kashmir and for the first time provided a political alternative to National Conference, which was hopelessly turning into a third-generation family raj. The emergence of PDP created a Kashmiri political alternative to NC within Kashmir valley. The politics of the J&K state however necessitated that PDP was never able to win a majority on its own to form the government independent of the support of another party and therefore the “Third Front” could never become a reality in the J&K state as Congress always managed to be the part of state governments led by both PDP and NC and accordingly the next decade and a half saw power shift from combination of PDP – Congress to NC – Congress. What began as a promise of an effective “Third Front” ended up in being just another “Second Front” with a new combination of PDP – Congress rather than the NC – Congress.
The emergence of this “Second Front” in 2000s unfortunately also accentuated some of the many problems that existed with former “NC – Congress” political dominance of 1950s till 80s. The continuation of Shiekh family raj to its third generation, the dominance of elite Kashmiri families belonging to few powerful upper castes and clans, extreme corruption, an out of control nepotism and mis-governance marked the rule of this “Second Front”, which even though provided an alternative to National Conference in Kashmir valley did not however break the old mould of governing entire J&K state that would indulge in “divide and rule” by deliberately pitting communities and sub regions of the J&K state against each other and indirectly keeping Kashmir valley in the state of conflict ever since 1990. This happened, even as the political elite dominated by few Kashmiri families held on to the power through opportunistic alliances all through these three decades.
This combination of a trio of NC – Congress – PDP formed governments and broke alliances mostly to further their own respective petty political interests and of those who ran these parties as their personal jagirdaris and fiefdoms. The underlying similarity in these alliances has only been the fact that these were based on common interests of those who run these parties rather than the welfare of common man of J&K state. These were purely opportunistic alliances, which were formed with the only purpose to enjoy the fruits of power for extended clan of few Kashmiri families and their friends. Moreover, the dual behavior of these parties has had special devastating effect on Kashmir conflict. These parties, when in power would speak one language and when out of power, they would speak an entirely different language. When out of power, Kashmir issue would become a “political issue” for them and when out of power, it would turn into a “law and order problem” for them.
The 2014 mandate for J&K state assembly elections was indeed one of the most complicated election results in recent times, which, for the first-time established BJP as a major political force in densely populated plains of Jammu region, where till now Congress used to be a dominating political entity. Kashmir valley-based parties like NC and PDP and smaller sub regional parties like Bhim Singh’s Panther’s Party have at best been marginal players in plains (and even Hills) of Jammu region. The BJP has successfully managed to place itself as an alternative to Congress party in Jammu region just as what PDP did to National Conference in late 1990s and early 2000s in Kashmir valley. The result of the complicated and messy election results of 2014 J&K state assembly elections threw yet another unholy alliance between the so called ideologically unmatchable “North pole & South Pole” of Jammu & Kashmir’s political spectrum.
While there is little doubt about the fact that the political alliance between BJP & PDP has proven to be a complete disaster for the entire J&K state and especially for Kashmir valley, where last few years have seen an increase in violence, killings, pellet blinding, complete collapse of economy, collapse of governance, alienation of Kashmiri people and a near complete breakdown of law and order. There is a general air of despair and despondency with corruption (J&K has been designated as India’s most corrupt state), nepotism, elitism, pollution and environmental degradation (Srinagar city has been designated as world’s 10th most polluted city), menace of drugs, loot and plunder of limited state resources, collapse of civic and communication infrastructure, increase in crime etc. defining challenges of governance in the state, especially Kashmir valley.
And amidst all this chaos, gloom and doom, the election mandate of 2014 assembly elections also provided a ray of hope in the form of the emergence of “Third Front”, a true and serious and for the first time, a formidable third political alternative from Kashmir valley that is truly path breaking in many ways, which is not only challenging the established Kashmiri political elite families, who along with their sons, daughters, daughter in-laws, grand-children, cousins, uncles, aunties and extended family clan and friends have taken it for granted as a political privilege to rule over the destiny of 1.2 crore people of J&K, especially Kashmir valley and in the process enrich themselves through opportunistic governing alliances, thinking that no question will ever be asked of them of their misdeeds ever.
While Sajad Gani Lone and People’s Conference along with many young and old political leaders and activists from PC and others parties who have recently joined or expressed their desire to join PC including Imran Reza Ansari, Muzaffar Hussain Beigh, Mohd Abbas Wani and Junaid Azam Mattoo ( recently elected mayor of Srinagar city), forms the pivot of this new and emerging political “Third Front”, however this front by definition also extends to all political forces that are opposed to Sheikh family run National Conference and Mufti khandan run PDP and that includes leaders like Engineer Rashid of Awami Ittehad Party and perhaps even Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami of Communist Party of India (Marxist). In fact, the “Third Front” includes any one and every one, who is sick and tired of the rich, greedy, sycophant, corrupt, nepotism infected privileged established political elite and their extended and wide spread khandani raj in Kashmir and entire J&K, who shamelessly even use the misery of Kashmir’s death and destruction for their political agenda to capture power in Kashmir and then selectively profit their own clan or sycophants from their rule.
The fact that this newly emerging “Third Front” is making waves and is fast capturing the imagination of wider section of the aam awam of J&K, especially Kashmir valley can be gauged from the fact that there has been an increase in social media attacks on all those associated with or seen to be associated with this emerging “Third Front”. The corrupt and stagnating “old guard” of Kashmir, which has been caught unawares is nervous and that has resulted in plethora of accusations by them thrown at and against People’s Conference and Sajad Gani Lone – the main pivot of the “Third Front”. These accusations cum taunts that include statements like the “Third Front” is supported by “right wing forces” or that Sajad Gani Lone is himself a political dynast or that J&K’s special constitutional status would be compromised by this “Third Front” – all these are nothing but panic driven fear mongering, which Kashmir’s established and corrupt political elite has been using to install fear among the people of the J&K state, right from the days of Praja Parishad in Jammu region and Muslim United Front in Kashmir valley.
The fact however is that, this 2018 and in this day and age of internet, people know everything including what the “old guard” would hypocritically not talk about or tell the people of Kashmir valley and J&K state. Given the fact that both the so called “secular” NC and PDP have had political association with the same “communal” party of which they accuse PC of associating with does not cut much ice except for portraying them as hypocrites. Also, their shedding of crocodile tears for their “defense” of Article 370 and 35-A stands hollow in light of their past and present association with Congress party, which is solely responsible for damaging and diluting these constitutional provisions, the most. Unlike three generations of Chief Ministers in National Conference and two generations of Chief Ministers in PDP, the dynastic rule of NC and PDP cannot be compared with that of Late Abdul Gani Lone, who never held an all-powerful post of “wazir-e-ala Jammu & Kashmir” and the immense political clout and perks and privileges that come with that position.
The icing on the cake of Kashmir’s latest tryst with stifling of the “Third Front” has been the rush with which these two Kashmir based family political enterprises staked claim (along with Congress) to form the government (which they never intended to do run) with the sole aim to force the Governor Sahab to dissolve the J&K state assembly and not let a “Third Front” and someone who is neither “Sheikh” or “Mufti” to explore and lead the possibility of forming the state government. This is especially ironical for PDP, which created a space for itself in 1990s by challenging the monopoly of National Conference in Kashmir’s electoral politics and the same PDP is today partner in creating hurdles for the emergence of the “Third Front” under the umbrella of People’s Conference.
Beyond the realm of social media, the fact on ground is that the emergence of the “Third Front” has come as a breath of fresh air by allowing an entirely new breed of young political activists from an entire social spectrum of Kashmir valley including rich, poor, educated, women, etc., any one with political ambition, who does not have any place in undemocratic and nepotism infected NC and PDP to carve a place for himself and / or herself in electoral politics of J&K (especially Kashmir valley), signaling a major tectonic shift in Kashmir valley’s mainstream electoral politics. This is a part of natural democratic evolution and any attempt to create hurdles in this process can have the disastrous consequences as the history of modern Kashmir from 1987 onwards tells us very clearly.
Javaid Beigh is a Political Activist and has worked as PRO to Former Chief Minister of J&K. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org