Srinagar, Indian administered Kashmir – Thursday marks India’s second anniversary celebrating the particular status of the part of Kashmir he administers – the most important change in the region disputed in more than 70 years of Indian rule.
The August 5, 2019 move, which divided the Himalayan region into two federally controlled territories, saw New Delhi impose a month-long security arrest and force hundreds of people, including top politicians. , activists, separatists and young men in prison, some under severe anti-terrorism laws.
To bolster its grip on the Muslim-majority region also claimed by neighboring Pakistan, the Indian nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has abolished laws that he protected the rights of local residents on their lands and allowed non-Kashmiri people from the mainland to buy land and settle.
To challenge the moves of New Delhi, the pro-Indian political parties in the region formed an alliance October last year seeking to restore their partial autonomy and statehood. The People’s Alliance for the 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 Party (CPM). ), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Awami National Conference, and the People’s Movement.
The coalition, initially labeled as “Gupkar Gang” and a “challenging global alliance” by Interior Minister Amit Shah, was invited to New Delhi in June for the first talks with Modi since the special status of the India-administered cashmere was phased out in 2019.
Mohamad Yusuf Tarigami, PAGD convener and spokesman and former CPM legislator, who was also present at the Meeting of June 24th, tells Al Jazeera that he has little hope from the current Indian government.
Excerpts from Tarigami’s interview:
Al Jazeera: How has Indian-administered Kashmir changed in the last two years?
Tarigami: Whatever the government’s assertion, it remains the fact that, due to the assault on constitutional provisions and the authoritarian way of conducting business, every field has been severely affected. The economy is almost in turmoil, whether it is artisanal or agricultural industry. Compared to the rest of India, Jammu and Kashmir (as the region is known in India) have suffered two blockades, accompanied by repression since August 5, 2019. The government could claim to build a New Kashmir, but the facts speak otherwise. Anyone who objectively assesses the situation on the ground can hear it.
Al Jazeera: How have relations with the federal government changed – from being called “Gupkar Gang” to meeting and a group photo with Modi?
Tarigami: Jammu and Kashmir’s political relationship with India has a unique history. With the repeal of Article 370, the Union has violated 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 abrogation or bifurcation or trifurcation, we political leaders appealed to the prime minister not to do anything about what was in the air then. We appeal that we must be heard before we consider anything vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir. But that midnight, repression began, political leaders were detained and lines of communication were broken. The connection of J and K with the rest of the world has been severed.
We were then called “gangs,” as participating in the election would be a crime. And then, suddenly, to our great surprise, we received a call from the government of India that the prime minister is holding a meeting and inviting you. We (PAGD) have discussed whether or not to go, but we have come to the conclusion that every opportunity for expression should be exploited. However, we were under no illusion that there would be any repairs.
Al Jazeera: What was discussed at the June 24 meeting with Prime Minister Modi?
Tarigami: They gave us a great opportunity to express our concerns to the Prime Minister. We convey in particular that the decision (August 5, 2019) taken by the government was neither in the interest of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India, nor useful for the peace process in the region we have worked and desired for.
Unfortunately, since the meeting, there has been no follow-up by the government. We expected the authorities to take some measures to increase trust. The fact remains that we do not have any concrete assurance. The meeting generated only more hope.
The Prime Minister said nothing about the repeal (of special status) and spoke only of “Dilli aur dil ki dooriyan” (“the distance between Delhi and the hearts should be reduced”). But no measure has been taken for that, other than the politics of rhetoric. So, I say that the meeting did not create any hope between people and the environment is seen to be much more hopeless.
Al Jazeera: The government has only invited pro-Indian leaders. Does the alliance also feel that cashmere separatists are not a stakeholder?
Tarigami: It was the choice of the prime minister, not ours. We received an invitation from the government.
We suggest that, if there is the possibility of a political dialogue, it should be productive and credible, and not like what we had with the prime minister. Just giving an audition is not enough, there must be some response from the government.
Kashmir has remained in a serious crisis and successive Indian governments have not been opposed to the idea of speaking out in all shades of opinion. During the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (former Prime Minister of India from the Modi party), then Deputy Prime Minister Advani also met with (rebel) militants. So it’s nothing new if we ask that the dialogue at any level be broadened, and made more inclusive and credible.
Al Jazeera: Do you think that international factors, such as the crisis in Afghanistan, have forced New Delhi to relaunch dialogue with Kashmir’s political leadership?
Tarigami: We all know that Jammu and Kashmir is a border state and that the atmosphere in the region is going to have its impact and could naturally be the concern of India and many others in the world. After destroying Afghanistan, the Americans are withdrawing now. In my opinion, the Americans have not done a good service occupying Afghanistan for a long period of time. Again, the way they have left has disappointed those who have held Afghanistan so far. So it must be a matter of concern for India.
It should be an objective analysis of the situation and the sensitivities around it should be addressed. That is why we say that the way the government of India deals with Kashmir is highly counterproductive. Such processes that are detrimental to the peace of the region and not even in the interest of the country must be put to an end.
Al Jazeera: What do you think of the human rights situation in the region over the last two years?
Tarigami: PAGD stands by the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh and its rights. The situation seems to be that there is no rule of law. It seems that the constitution of India does not work here.
At the meeting with the Prime Minister, we were told that the 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 have a revolt in these cases. There are many examples where people are arrested and found not guilty and released after many years. How will the government compensate such people? There are enormous detentions and extensive evidence available that suggests that indiscriminate arrests are made in our youth.
The government does not accept our version that there are many people in prison who have not committed any crime. This is very reprehensible and illegal. We assure our people, whatever the situation, we will raise our voice for the people who are languishing in prisons.
Al Jazeera: Most people in Indian-administered Kashmir call the Gupkar alliance a pro-India political formation and feel cheated by its politicians. How do you answer 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 concern each of us, even those who are not part of the covenant? Someone may agree or disagree with me or someone and that is why it is an alliance and not a merger. Finally it is the voice of the people that counts. If Jammu and Kashmir is this situation, it should be a concern for everyone in the rest of India including the media, civil society, intelligence, writers and others.
Suppose that any other State is subject to the central rule and reduced to a union territory, what would be the reaction of that part of the country? That is why I appeal to the citizens of India who must stand up and at least share our pain.
The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.