A newly launched grouping of political parties in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) wants foreign forces to intervene in the region and take it back to the era of “terror and turmoil”, Union home minister Amit Shah said on Tuesday, in a scathing criticism of the six-party bloc known as the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD).

He said that the “Gupkar Gang” wants to take away the rights of Dalits, women and tribal people that the Centre ensured by removing Article 370, which accorded special status to the erstwhile state, and dared Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi to clear the air on whether their party is backing the alliance. Shah also called the grouping a “global gathbandhan against our national interest”.

His remarks triggered a sharp response from the coalition, which its leaders say has been formed to demand the restoration of the erstwhile state’s special status. The PAGD leadership said the Centre’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to delegitimise a coalition that is taking part in the upcoming local polls in J&K. The Congress, too, hit back at Shah, saying the party is not a part of PAGD, which includes regional powerhouses National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

“The Gupkar Gang is going global! They want foreign forces to intervene in Jammu and Kashmir. The Gupkar Gang also insults India’s Tricolour. Do Sonia Ji and Rahul Ji support such moves of the Gupkar Gang? They should make their stand crystal clear to the people of India,” Shah wrote on Twitter.

Also Read| Congress not part of Gupkar alliance: Surjewala

The BJP maintains that the Gupkar grouping, led by NC’s Farooq Abdullah, has been formed on the directions of Pakistan and China and is guided by “anti-India” forces. The BJP unit in J&K has also demanded the arrest of PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, the deputy chairperson of PAGD, for her October-end remarks that she will hold the national tricolour only after the flag of the erstwhile state is restored.

“Jammu and Kashmir has been, is and will always remain an integral part of India. Indian people will no longer tolerate an unholy ‘global gathbandhan’ against our national interest. Either the Gupkar Gang swims along with the national mood or else the people will sink it,” Shah added.

Reacting to Shah’s tweets, PAGD alleged that the BJP is frustrated with the alliance since it will not get a walkover in the district development council (DDC) elections, which will be held from November 28 to December 22, with candidates of the coalition in fray.

“I can understand the frustration behind this attack by the Hon’ble Home Minister. He had been briefed that the People’s Alliance (PAGD) was preparing to boycott elections. This would have allowed the BJP & newly formed King’s party (Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party) a free run in J&K. We didn’t oblige them,” NC’s Omar Abdullah tweeted.

He also stressed that PAGD is not a gang but a “legitimate political alliance”. “Only in J&K can leaders be detained & called anti-national for participating in elections & supporting the democratic process. The truth is all those who oppose the ideology of the BJP are labelled “corrupt & anti-national”,” he added.

Mufti, a former ally of the BJP, said that the party’s “stale tactic of dividing India by projecting themselves as saviours & political opponents as internal & imagined enemies is far too predictable now”.

“Old habits die hard. Earlier BJP’s narrative was that the tukde tukde gang threatened India’s sovereignty & they are now using ‘Gupkar Gang’ euphemism to project us as anti-nationals. Irony died a million deaths since its BJP itself that violates the constitution day in & day out.

“Fighting elections in an alliance is also anti-national now. BJP can stitch as many alliances in its hunger for power but somehow we are undermining national interest by putting up a united front,” she tweeted.

Srinagar-based political analyst Aseem Bhat said that the coming together of the parties against the BJP is a significant development. “So far, the regional parties were on the back foot (after the nullification of Article 370 last year)…Now, they have started doing aggressive politics not only in Kashmir but also in the Jammu region, which is going to hurt the BJP…”

In the statement denying any association with PAGD, the Congress said that Shah should explain the BJP’s alliance with the PDP in 2015, when the two parties formed the government in the state.

Also Read| ‘Those who oppose BJP’s ideology are labelled corrupt and anti-national’: Omar Abdullah

“Congress is neither part of Gupkar Alliance nor PAGD. Will Mr Amit Shah bother to explain why the BJP formed a coalition government with the PDP that he is now attacking?” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said, accusing the home minister of “making mischievous statements” on J&K and stressing that the Congress will never compromise on the country’s territorial integrity.

PAGD has already released two lists comprising the names of 54 candidates for the DDC polls, in which nominees will contest on party symbols. Despite the central Congress leadership’s denial, three of the party’s candidates feature in the second list. Also, the J&K Congress leadership said earlier this week that the party is part of the grouping.

On August 5, 2019, the central government nullified Article 370 and bifurcated J&K into two Union territories – J&K with a legislative assembly and Ladakh without one — triggering widespread protests and a political firestorm.

Several political leaders and activists including three former chief ministers — Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah — were detained as a preventive measure to maintain law and order. The Abdullahs were released in March, and Mufti in October.

Since then, the leaders, once fierce opponents, have come together — backed by four other parties (Peoples Conference, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Peoples Movement and Awami National Conference) — to forge the alliance that aims to work for the restoration of the region’s special status. The grouping’s first meeting was held at the Gupkar residence of Farooq Abdullah on October 15.

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