As it snowed outside, a hall at the government guest house in the restive south Kashmir township of Kulgam was packed with workers and sympathisers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). More local residents kept pouring in till there was no room left to even take a peek inside. There were a few security personnel in sight and the attendees did not seem worried.
The CPM had called for a workers convention in Kulgam, on Wednesday, three weeks after the state Assembly was dissolved and the Bharatiya Janata Party suffered losses in the recently held Assembly elections in the Hindi heartland of the country. At the convention, the party’s leaders impressed upon those gathered that India “is not communal anymore”.
Zahoor Ahmad, the party’s area secretary, drew attention to the fact that more Indians had rallied in the farmer’s protests — worried about the quality of their lives rather than communal agendas — than the rallies in favour of the Ram Mandir. With the BJP’s defeat, “the old, secular India that we knew has come back”, he said. “India will become better. Kashmir, too, will become better.”
That the BJP’s losses had buoyed the confidence of the CPM leaders in Kashmir was evident as all speakers on the occasion invoked the failure of the BJP’s invoking of issues such as the Ram Mandir during their election campaigns. They stressed on the “rise of the secular voice” in the country once again. Hamid Wani, the party’s senior member, attempted to drive the message closer to home: “Don’t sell either Lal Ded or Ram and Krishna for power,” he said.
The party’s head and the sole communist legislator, Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, spoke last. The Kulgam district that is otherwise the stronghold of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the jihadist insurgency is rather unique as it is also home to the constituency that has voted Tarigami to power in four consecutive elections since 1996.
As he began his speech with the customary Islamic greetings, the attendees sat in near silence. Tarigami, too, trained his guns on the BJP as he expressed his “uncertainty” of the future. “Trust anyone but the pitiful, Jan-Sangh politics of the BJP,” he warned the attendees. Tarigami not only took jibes at the “communal politics” of the prominent faces of the BJP – including the prime minister, the BJP party president Amit Shah and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath – but also the appointment of Sheikh Imran as the deputy mayor of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation. “This is a government of thieves,” he said.
Tarigami spoke of the various issues faced by the district’s residents – issues of unemployment, farm loans, and development. “Azadi aside, tomorrow if you don’t have food to eat, will you be able to sleep?” he asked. Some in the crowd responded in the negative. However, no gathering of the unionist parties is complete without the political rhetoric that is common to them – of the call for dialogue between India and Pakistan, expressing concerns over the arrest of youth suspected of anti-state activities, and the killing of civilians by any side. “Unfortunately, it is a Kashmiri who is getting killed every day,” he said.
The BJP must be stopped
As the convention concluded, Tarigami told reporters that he was hopeful of a “secular government” free of hate, temple, and cow politics to be in place that will “give us peace and security”. He also sought “relief” from the Governor Satya Pal Malik as several residents of the district had been detained or named in police reports.
Tarigami’s statements, however, failed to reassure some of the attendees. As Tarigami proceeded towards the party’s Kulgam office, he was surrounded by local residents seeking the release of their relatives detained by the counterinsurgency wing of the local police over suspected anti-state activities. A few women shouted slogans against the government and demanded an “end to the government oppression”. “This government has been handed over to the STF (the state police’s counterinsurgency wing),” shouted one woman whose relative was detained.
Speaking to Firstpost, the former legislator said that “certain policies” of the government was to blame for the resentment in the Kashmiri society, where channels of dissent were choked. “If the people’s expression seems harsh, I entirely believe that it is because of the weak responses [to local and political grievances] from Srinagar to New Delhi,” he said. “It’s an expression of all the accumulated anger.”
Without naming the People’s Democratic Party, that ran its election campaign on the promise of scuttling the BJP’s attempt to seize power in the state but eventually collaborated with it, Tarigami said that an unfavourable situation had developed as “you have promised something done something different”. “You have aroused feelings and aspirations and denying what is due to the people. They are seen to be collaborating with those who are not seen as friends,” he said.
Despite considering the BJP’s losses in the “Hindu heartland” as an indicator for its uncertain prospects in the upcoming general elections, they still stood a chance in the Valley if a boycott of the elections persists. “If people do not vote, naturally like it happened in the local body elections, the BJP won when otherwise they would not have,” he said. Even the Kulgam municipal committee is now presided over by a BJP member. Tarigami also hinted at seeking coordination with other opposition parties to prevent the BJP’s second attempt at taking power. “I wish and hope our people are sensible and they will not be allowing such forces to emerge particularly in the Valley,” Tarigami said.
However, the political discourse again in the Valley is again shifting to the whipping up of fears of the BJP’s take over as it was during the previous elections. The eventual “betrayal” by the PDP – that had Kashmir’s anti-BJP mandate – still on people’s mind, participation in the next elections remains uncertain. “It is certainly difficult,” said Tarigami, “but its not something which can’t be done.”
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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2018 13:49:27 IST