India-run Srinagar, Kashmir – Thursday marks the second anniversary of the destruction of India special status of the part of Kashmir that administers it — the most drastic change in the disputed territory in more than 70 years of Indian rule.
The August 5, 2019 movement, which divided the Himalayan region into two federally controlled territories, imposed a month-long security stop in New Delhi and forced hundreds of people, including top politicians, activists, separatists and young men, into prisons, some under strict anti-terror laws.
To intensify its grip on the Muslim majority, which neighboring Pakistan also claims, the Hindu nationalist government of India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi abolished the laws rights protected of the locals across their lands and allowed non-Kashmiris from the mainland to buy and settle land.
To challenge the movements of New Delhi, the political parties in India has entered into an alliance in October last year seeking to restore its partial autonomy and state capture. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), popularly known as the Gupkar Alliance, is a coalition of six parties: the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Awami National Conference and the People’s Movement.
The coalition, initially described as “Gupkar Gang” and an “unholy global alliance” by Interior Minister Amit Shah, was invited to New Delhi in June for the first talks with Modi since India’s special status of Kashmir. managed, was deleted in 2019.
Mohamad Yusuf Tarigami, PAGD convener and spokesperson and former CPM legislator, who was also present at the June 24 meeting, Al Jazeera says he has little hope of the current Indian government.
Excerpts from the interview with Tarigami:
Al Jazeera: How has India – run Kashmir changed over the past two years?
Tarigami: Whatever the government’s allegations, the fact remains that because of the attack on the constitutional provisions and the authoritarian way of running the business, every area has been severely affected. The economy has virtually gone bankrupt, whether it is the craft industry or agriculture. Compared to the rest of India, Jammu and Kashmir (as the region is known in India) have had two closures, along with collapses since August 5, 2019. The government may claim to want to build a new Kashmir, but the facts speak for themselves else. Anyone who assesses the situation on the ground objectively can feel it.
Al Jazeera: How has relations with the federal government changed – from ‘Gupkar gang’ to a meeting and a group photo with Modi?
Tarigami: The political relationship between Jammu and Kashmir with India has a unique history. With the repeal of Article 370, the Union broke down the constitutional provisions between Jammu and Kashmir and India. It was a humiliation of our people and their political leaders. Even on August 4, 2019, when rumors were in the air about abolition or bifurcation or trifurcation, we the political leaders appealed to the Prime Minister to do nothing then. We called for us to be heard before considering anything about Jammu and Kashmir. But that midnight the collapse began, political leaders were detained and communication lines were broken. The connection of J and K with the rest of the world has been cut off.
Then we were called a ‘gang’, as if participating in elections was a crime. And suddenly, to our great surprise, we get a call from the Indian government that the Prime Minister is holding a meeting and inviting you. We (PAGD) discussed whether we should go or not, but we came to the conclusion that every opportunity to express ourselves should be used. However, we were not under the illusion that there would be redress.
Al Jazeera: What was discussed during the June 24 meeting with Prime Minister Modi?
Tarigami: We had ample opportunity to express our concern to the Prime Minister. In particular, we were informed that the decision (5 August 2019) taken by the government was not in the interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India, nor was it beneficial to the peace process in the region for which we worked and wished.
Unfortunately, there have been no follow-ups from the government since the meeting. We expected the government to take some measures to build trust. The fact remains that we did not receive any concrete insurance. The meeting only caused more hopelessness.
The prime minister said nothing about the lifting (of special status) and spoke only about “Dilli aur dil ki dooriyan” (“distance between Delhi and hearts should be reduced”). But no measures were taken except the politics of rhetoric. That is why I say that the meeting did not create any hope among people and that the environment is much more hopeless.
Al Jazeera: The government only invited pro-Indian leaders. Does the alliance also feel that Kashmiri separatists are not a stakeholder?
Tarigami: It was the Prime Minister’s choice, not ours. We received an invitation from the government.
We suggest that it should be productive and credible if there is a political dialogue, and not as with the Prime Minister. Just hearing is not enough; there must be reactions from the government.
Kashmir remained in a serious crisis and successive Indian governments were not averse to the idea of speaking to all opinions. During the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (former Indian Prime Minister of Modi’s party), the then Deputy Prime Minister Advani even met the militants (rebels). It is therefore nothing new if we demand that dialogue be broadened at any level and become more inclusive and credible.
Al Jazeera: Do you think that international factors, such as the crisis in Afghanistan, have forced New Delhi to resume dialogue with Kashmir’s political leadership?
Tarigami: All of us know that Jammu and Kashmir is a border state and that the atmosphere in the region can have an impact, and this can of course be the concern of India and many others in the world. After destroying Afghanistan, the Americans are now withdrawing them. In my opinion, Americans have not rendered good service by occupying Afghanistan for a long period of time. Again, the way they went away disappointed those with whom they had held Afghanistan until now. It must therefore be a source of concern for India.
An objective analysis of the situation must be done and attention must be paid to the sensitivity around it. That is why we say that the way the Government of India deals with Kashmir is very counterproductive. Such processes, which are detrimental to the peace of the region and not also in the interest of the country, must come to an end.
Al Jazeera: What do you think about the human rights situation in the region over the past two years?
Tarigami: PAGD stands by the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh and their rights. The situation seems to be no rule of law. India’s constitution does not seem to be working here.
In the meeting with PM, we were informed that cases of the detainees will be reviewed. Now the government says there are no political detainees. What do you mean by that? Our argument is to look at these matters. There are several examples where people are arrested and acquitted and released after many years. How would the government compensate such people? There are large detentions and enough evidence available to suggest that our young people are being made without respective arrests.
The government does not accept our version that there are many people in prison who have not committed any crime. It is highly offensive and illegal. We assure our people, no matter the situation, we will raise our voices for the people who are languishing in prison.
Al Jazeera: Most people in Kashmir run by India call the Gupkar Alliance a political formation of India and feel cheated by its politicians. How do you react to that?
Tarigami: The PAGD does not claim a political monopoly. We welcome all the people of Jammu and Kashmir and political formations to join the alliance in defense of a dignified life. Does it not affect every one of us, even those who are not part of the alliance? Some agree with me or with someone or disagree, and therefore it is an alliance and not a merger. Ultimately, it’s the voice of people that matters. If Jammu and Kashmir is this situation, it should be a source of concern for everyone in the rest of India including the media, civil society, intelligentsia, writers and others.
Suppose any other state is placed under central government and downgraded to a union territory, what would be the reaction of that part of the country? That is why I call on the citizens of India to stand up and at least share our pain.
The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.