Kashmiri politicians’ unique protocol to fight COVID-19

Arun Joshi

By Arun Joshi

Did anyone pay attention to the behaviour of the political parties in Kashmir? Perhaps none. The groups and leaders of Kashmir have always been painted with unpleasant colours that their real intent was rarely seen beyond the brushes apt at painting darkness.

In the current times when the whole nation is fighting Coronavirus, and the politicians are engaged in name-calling, the political class in Kashmir has acted in the most responsible manner, something unparalleled in Kashmir’s history. No political recriminations, no name calling but only dedication to save the people from the catastrophe that has visited them in the form of the second wave of the pandemic. There are messages of solidarity everywhere.

 All the contentious issues have been put on backburner, and this becomes more important when seen against the backdrop that Kashmir is seen as a conflict zone in the whole of South Asia.

If any example was needed of the responsible manner in which the political parties, big or small, old or new, had spoken and acted during these horrifying times coronavirus, Kashmiri politicians have talked of fighting the virus and helping the needy. They sensitized the government about the shortage of oxygen, vaccine and offered concrete suggestions to resolve the issues in the politest language shorn of accusations.

Since June 20, 2018, there is no political government in place in Jammu and Kashmir – a day earlier BJP had pulled the rig from the feet of PDP-BJP coalition government led by Mehbooba Mufti. That led to the imposition of the Central rule and the dynamics became more centralized after the state was bifurcated into two Union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir on  August 5, 2019 .

There also is no possibility of elected government coming into being anytime soon. The whole thing is hanging in air. The constitution of the Delimitation Commission to redefine the constituencies for the Assembly. Corona has hampered the work of the Commission. It has already been told that it has to increase the number of seats in the Union Territory Assembly from existing 83  to 114.. The previous House had 87, four of which were filled by the elected MLAs of Ladakh – now Ladakh has no such provision ever since it became the UT following August 5, 2019, decision of bifurcating the state of J&K into two Union Territories .

Kashmiri parties, be that the oldest National Conference, its 22-year-old rival  People’s Democratic Party, or the newest  Jammu Kashmir Apni Party, better known as Apni Party that came into being in March 2020, days before the coronavirus left everyone stranded in their tracks. All these parties have put their political activities on hold.

Using their foresight, the political groups have evolved their own protocol and laid down voluntary guidelines how to operate during this unprecedented crisis. They have moved far ahead in adhering to the SoPs. They not only conformed to the Coronavirus inflicted guidelines of not hosting the gatherings, they have listed their own priorities of helping the population to overcome the challenge posed by the pandemic without indulging in publicity grabbing gimmicks .

Apni Party president  Altaf Bukhari is very clear on this issue. “ This is not the time to quarrel with each other. This crisis demands that we stand united in fight against the pandemic. Political parties cannot survive in vacuum, and it is incumbent upon us that we all  strive   to  meet the challenge without making noises.”

“Rest everything can wait. We are meeting the needs of the needy, and to be very honest, this is not the time for politics, Bukhari said underlining his mission to help the people in these testing times instead of drawing political mileage in the situation. They have chosen two methods to reach out to the people; one by going in for radio silence on their respective political ideologues and goals that they had laid out before the second wave struck the population, for they know that their silence on these issues is the most important thing to boost the morale of the people whom they represent or hope to represent in future in the elected institutions.

What needs to be appreciated that they are quite vocal on social media in flagging off the issues of the patients in need of hospital bed, oxygen, ventilator and blood and so on. Twitter-savvy Omar Abdullah is quite active in this category. Dozens of cases are flagged by him every day, not only of the Kashmir valley but also that are tagged to him from across the country . He has  more than 3.2 million followers on Twitter, an astronomical number.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti has also started doing that. But she doesn’t miss a chance to highlight other issues of the public as well as a balancing act  to stay glued to her articulation of the difficulties of the people on other counts with that of the amplification of the need to fight virus more vigorously

The most difficult thing for politicians in any part of the world is to stay away from the limelight. But Kashmiri politicians, while flagging off the issues and needs of the people, have stayed away from visits to hospitals and Covid- care centres for they know that their presence in and around such institutions would encroach upon the time of doctors and medical staff and that could adversely affect the patient care. Their party cadres are visiting with all the aid and assistance to the needy, without turning that into photo opportunities to be broadcast.  There can be nothing more sensible and wiser course than this.

Views expressed are personal