On 13th of November the ruling PDP held its maiden pubic meeting in Srinagar, after more than four months of unrest in Kashmir, indicating that Kashmir may be on way to normalcy



              On November 13 the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) organized a maiden public meeting in Srinagar by any mainstream party during past more than four months after the killing of rebel commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani July 8 this year. In normal times, the meeting which took place at party headquarters near Lal Chowk in the heart of summer capital Srinagar would have gone unnoticed. But when the ministers and legislators from both ruling and opposition parties had found it difficult to venture into their constituencies and had limited their movement to highly fortified Gupkar and church lane, the meeting gained significance, indicating improvement in situation in the Valley that remained on the boil for over past four months. As per the separatists’ calendar which prescribes a weekly timetable of protests, shutdown and work hours, November 13 was to be a day of complete shutdown with “relaxation hours” to start from 4 pm onwards. But the PDP supporters, from three districts of central Kashmir including Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal, started pouring in at the venue from early morning. By the time the sun rose to pierce the haze and chill, the number of the participants including women, who had travelled in their own vehicles to reach the highly guarded venue, had grown significantly. Ever since the unrest begun, the space for mainstream politics has shrunk in the Valley and both politicians and their workers have been maintaining a low profile to escape peoples’ fury in the wake of the civilian killings.

           The situation had deteriorated to the extent that a handful of grassroots workers belonging to different parties including Panchayat members had publicly announced resignation from mainstream politics and pledged support to the separatist camp. Though the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti who is also the President of the party didn’t attend the meeting, senior party leaders including Muzaffar Hussain Baig didn’t disappoint the workers as he delivered a speech to rebuild the bridge between PDP and Kashmiris while remaining conscious of the local narrative about the ongoing strife in Kashmir. “We know that you have suffered immensely for us for all these months. We are here to stay for another four years and we will not disappoint you. Our focus will be employment and development,” Baig told the crowd which responded with claps and cheers. Though the civil secretariat – the highest seat of the governance in Jammu and Kashmir – has already shifted to winter capital of Jammu as a biannual practice of durbar move, Baig assured the workers that they need not to feel disappointed. “Before she left Jammu, Mehboobaji told all the senior government officers in categorical terms to address the grievances of her supporters if they want to see her happy,” Baigh reassured the crowd. Then his speech focused on the ongoing unrest in the Valley and the killings. “Burhan was a martyr, may God rest his soul in peace. His killing was a conspiracy to topple the PDP led government…the PDP will not let go waste the sacrifices of the civilians killed during the unrest,” he said, adding that Mehbooba’s opponents were scared of her popularity and the credibility she had gained by her work as an opposition leader and so looked for an opportunity to damage her reputation.’As his speech went on Baig shifted his focus on Kashmir issue.

Ever since the unrest begun, the space for mainstream politics has shrunk in the Valley and both politicians and their workers have been maintaining a low profile to escape peoples’ fury in the wake of the civilian killings.

        “Our party will work for the resolution of Kashmir and that was why the party forged an alliance with the BJP.. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the only leader in India who can resolve Kashmir as he had the ‘complete support of Hindus’,” said Baig before launching an attack on the separatists over their protest strategy during the unrest. He asked the Hurriyat leaders to rethink their strategy saying the calls for hartal (shutdown) have become a “joke” now. “What have they achieved from it (the four months of uprising),” asked Baig. “Have a look outside. What kind of hartal is there?” He pointed towards the “Sunday market” outside where, despite the shutdown call, vendors sold clothes and household items on their stalls. Sensing that the event was an opportunity for the party to reach out to its workers across Kashmir other party workers including general secretary Sartaj Madni promised of focusing on development and employment in the years to come even as party’s youth president Waheedur- Rehman Parra said that the effort would be made that the employment is permanent, and not contractual or adhoc.

          The assurance from the party leaders was enough to bring cheer on the faces of supporters who soon engaged in conversation. “I firmly believes that the chief minister should be given time to prove herself,” said Raja Begum who had travelled in his private car from Ganderbal to attend the program. “Nobody is denying that Kashmir is an issue but we must give Mehbooba ji a chance before we sit on judgment.” The party hadn’t gone public about the meeting, perhaps realizing the situation was still far off from normal in the region. The workers had been instead told secretly two days ago about the venue and time of the meeting. The Valley has completed more than 20 weeks under the unrest but the level of protests has gone down over the past one month. Also, there are far and few reports coming from different parts of Kashmir about civilian injuries as the level of clashes between the protesting youth and security forces have also gone down. Last month representatives of transporters, who have been hit most in the unrest, approached Geelani and other Hurriyat leaders seeking relaxation from the protest calendar so that they could resume their business.

          “Around 50 workers from my area left home early in the morning to attend the meeting,” said Muzaffar Ahmad of Qamarwari. The presence of scores of supporters from the summer capital including areas like Eidgah, Batamaloo and Safa Kadal was, according to a party leader, sign of encouragement for the party. “It shows that our cadre is intact and is ready to come and support the ideology and philosophy of the party that came into the existence to resolve the political issue of Kashmir,” said the party leader. As the participant were coming out of the meeting a group among them got engrossed in the discussion over the prevailing situation and recalled the summer uprising of 2010. Then their attention shifted on the Hurriyat strategy. The separatists were caught in a dilemma, quipped one middle-aged man. “They are again caught in a fix. They lose if they call off the strike, they lose if they don’t,” he said.