BJP’s J&K unit president Ravinder Raina appealed to Farooq Abdullah, towering political leader of Kashmir, to “demonstrate his magnanimity, rising above the party politics, to announce welcome to the G20 delegates who on Monday were in Srinagar to attend third working group meet on tourism.” This appeal was made to Farooq Abdullah from the party’s headquarters in Jammu, which is the nerve center of the saffron party’s activities, mostly directly against the political leadership of Kashmir, in which the Abdullah family tops the list.
This turn around was political necessity, which BJP leader wrapped in invoking the spirit of hospitality of the people of Kashmir, with his thesis that the welcome of the world accorded to the people from India, needs to be reciprocated. He extended his appeal to all the politicians, without naming them, but his references were clear when he said “all the prominent political leaders- former chief ministers and others.” He took the name of Farooq Abdullah only.
The irony of the words and timings could not be missed. The delegates had already landed and lodged in their hotels by Monday afternoon, when the BJP chief held a press conference, in which he hailed the hosting of G20 event as a “ beginning of new era”, for Jammu and Kashmir, and the one which will transform its economy and negate all the ill-conceived and bad mouthing about the image of the place by vested interests. The BJP had accorded to itself the ownership of the event, so to say, as the messaging about the event and visitors could have been sent from some other place as well.
Second, Farooq Abdullah is the only elected representative of Srinagar. He is the Member Parliament from Srinagar parliamentary constituency. Since there is no legislative Assembly, there is no other elected representative barring the local Municipal Corporation. And, history bears testimony to the fact that Farooq Abdullah had represented India and pleaded its case on Kashmir at several international forums, including the UN Human rights meet in Geneva in March 1994. He had led the charge against Pakistan. He was leading face in the delegation led by the then-opposition leader Atal Behari Vajpayee. Farooq was out of power that time. Vajpayee, as Prime Minister, had also taken him along to Pokhran, Rajasthan, few days after the nuclear explosions in May 1998. These are recorded facts in the history, and these can be wiped out only at the risk of losing the great narrative on Kashmir and the rest of country, where BJP leader and Kashmiri Muslim leader made a common cause for the nation.
Farooq was in Delhi when the G 20 delegates had started arriving in his constituency. No one had contacted him, nor consulted about the G 20 event. The local leadership of Kashmir was kept outside of deliberations. The G 20 meet underway in Kashmir has an official stamp all over. It’s like the clean water of Dal Lake, which is having reservoir of its own stories of decades.
This appeal was also made to all the “politicians, including former chief ministers, without naming them though the reference was to invoke the native status of Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, two other chief ministers hailing from Kashmir. Raina, however, had urged Farooq Abdullah, by name, to welcome the G 20 delegates
This appeal from the BJP, the party that rules at the Centre, and, in J&K- the UT is under direct rule of Delhi, was surprising, because Raina, the most familiar face of the party in and from J&K, had always been a relentless critic of the Kashmiri leadership, accusing it of having neglected the state for 70 years.
His change of vocabulary appeared to be a compulsion of the party that found itself alone in the effort of welcoming the G 20 event and delegates. triggering a narrative for the welcome to the G20 delegates. Apart from counting other merits of the event, he said that all the fabricated and concocted stories about Kashmir will get buried now. A simple translation of this means that all the criticism of Delhi, mostly from Pakistan, about the human rights’ violations in Kashmir, which it calls “ disputed territory”, will disappear.
On the day G20 delegates arrived in Kashmir, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, was in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, where he addressed the local legislative Assembly. During his address, he launched a no-holds barred attack on India for hosting G20 meet in Srinagar, “ in clear disregard to the UN resolutions on Kashmir, international law and bilateral agreements. Caught in the quagmire of Pakistan’s own internal politics wherein opposition leader and former Prime Minister Imran Khan is giving the coalition government run for money, he demonstratively pointed accusing fingers at Delhi for ‘suppressing’ all the rights of the people of (the Indian side of Kashmir). The two sides of Kashmir between India and Pakistan are divided by the Line of Control or LoC, the de-facto border between the two territories.
It is understandable that the saffron party wanted to give an impression to the delegates, and also to the rest of the world that BJP is not alone in showcasing normalcy and peace in Jammu and Kashmir, but others too were with it, rather it was an attempt to show that all the political parties were on the same page. A simple welcome note or tweet by the political leaders, in particular, from Farooq Abdullah, five-time chief minister of the undivided Jammu and Kashmir, could have completed the normalcy picture.
BJP’s starting point of peace and normalcy in Kashmir is August 5, 2019, when it scrapped the semi-autonomous status of the state, and subsequently ordered its bifurcation into two federally administered union territories of Ladakh, and J&K. The BJP believes that G20 delegates’ visit and the event on tourism is a signal that the world has accepted the normalcy narrative – that is justification for doing away with the special privileges of the original residents of Jammu and Kashmir. Other parties are in disagreement with this view.
But the fact is things have changed. The optics are extremely good and soothing- the only thing missing is the vibrancy that local leadership could have lent.