The resignation of Tariq Hameed Karra from the People’s Democratic Party and the Srinagar-Budgam Lok Sabha seat, may be one of the biggest jolts the regional party has suffered of late, but is unlikely to be the last.

Karra is a founder member of the PDP, which was formed in 1999 with the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as its president and Karra as its general secretary.

Karra told that resigning from the party was like having one’s house burnt and turned into ashes. “But then I saw the blood of Kashmiris being spilled over the lanes and drains of Kashmir,” said Karra. “I couldn't take it any longer.”

His resignation, announced on September 15, follows that of several other junior leaders, including the party’s Srinagar’s district vice-president, a former municipal corporator, and local unit presidents.

Workers drifting away

Several weeks into the unrest that started on July 8 after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter, resentment within the party against the leadership has spilled over.

Several PDP workers have resigned through advertisements in newspapers, or declarations from their local mosques. Sarpanches, whose terms had already expired, have submitted symbolic resignations.

As reasons, almost all have cited the alliance between the People’s Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules the state, and the current situation in which over 80 Kashmiris have been killed, thousands injured and several blinded.

Tariq Hameed Karra contested and won the Srinagar parliamentary seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, defeating the National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah by a margin of 42,280 votes.

Karra said that he quit the party after expressing his concerns at the unprecedented alliance between the PDP and BJP, which the late Sayeed had stitched up. Sayeed died in January after which his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, took over as chief minister.

Commenting on the contradictory ideologies of the alliance partners, Karra said that it was an unnatural partnership. He said that he felt that the alliance gave the BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, scope to chip away at the ethos of Kashmir, “something they couldn't do in the last 60 years.”

“[At that time,] I told Mufti sahab that with the alliance the [RSS] would achieve in six months what they couldn’t in 60 years,” said Karra. “I don't subscribe to the theory of unification of South Pole and North Pole. According to Muslim belief, the poles will unite on the day of judgement.”

The party’s former Srinagar district vice-president Nisar Ahmad Mandoo told that the PDP had wronged the people as it had “asked for votes to stop tear gas, pellets, and PSA [the draconian Public Safety Act],” but also turned its back on the promise of keeping the BJP away from the Valley.

Mandoo said that perceptions about the party had changed with the PDP suffering the largest setback in Srinagar, with its workers and voters “drifting away.”

Mandoo said that he had attempted to voice his concerns with the party leadership, but to no avail. “I waited [before quitting the party] because Tariq sahab tried to warn the party,” he said, adding “now see the situation: people being shot at with pellets.”

Ghulam Arif Malla, former president of the PDP unit in Chattabal, Srinagar, who is also among those to resign from the party, said: “The day the alliance was formed there was resentment amongst workers…We didn't give the mandate for this, we gave mandate to keep the BJP away.”

Post-alliance, issues like a Jammu and Kashmir High Court order to implement an 150-year-old law banning beef in the state, which was later set aside, and proposals to set up Sainik and Pandit enclaves in the Valley added to resentment against the ruling alliance.

Malla added: “There were at least 750 workers in the halka [unit], of which only about 100-150 remain. The rest are with me, we held a meeting and collectively decided to leave the party.”

The party with a difference?

When the PDP was formed 17 years ago, it was promoted as an alternative to the National Conference, whose popularity was ebbing at that time.

Soon after forming the party, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed said the issues faced by Kashmir could be resolved through dialogue and that the party would “convince the Government of India that bullets are no answer to the Kashmiri problems.” He said that the PDP would favour talks with separatists and Pakistan.

“PDP was formed…to act as a bridge between India and Pakistan and [as] a facilitator between separatists and the government,” said Karra. “We had said that the government of India should have one-to-one talks with the Hurriyat, that we saw as stakeholders.”

To promote itself, the party also appropriated the symbols and phraseology of separatist sentiments.

For instance, the party flag consists of its electoral symbol, a pen and inkpot, on a green background. The pen and inkpot are taken from the electoral symbol of the Muslim United Front, a conglomerate of Kashmiri political parties that contested the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections in 1987. The popular party only won three seats in the election that was widely considered to be rigged, and a turning point in the Valley.

Mehbooba Mufti is known to extend sympathies to families of slain militants, and has often visited them to condole the deaths.

Such tactics attracted a section within Kashmir, while others perceived the party to be “soft separatist” in nature. This happened notwithstanding the fact that during the tenure of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed as Union Home Minister in 1989-’90 a series of bloody massacres, including those at Gawkadal and Handwara, took place in the Valley.

During the outbreak of violence in Kashmir in 2008 and 2010, several people recall Mehbooba Mufti’s reaction to the deaths, and point to the 180-degree change in her reaction since.

People remember that when unrest broke out in 2008, the PDP withdrew support to the Congress with whom it was in a coalition government. Two years later, when protests erupted again at the time a National Conference government was in power, the abiding image Kashmiris have of Mufti from that time was of the PDP leader atop a vehicle passionately demanding a probe into the deaths of protesters.

Local residents across the spectrum now point out that the same Mufti, who built her party going door-to-door and connected with the common people, remains unfazed despite a large number of deaths.

Similarly, the party’s former supporters say that during its 2002-’05 stint in government, the PDP was seen as a beacon of hope against the excesses of the previous National Conference government. But that is not the case anymore.

A former PDP worker from South Kashmir’s Kulgam district said the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had given raahat, or relief, from the National Conference’s rule during the party’s earlier stint at power. But it was now difficult to spot the difference between the two.

Lok Sabha bypoll watch

With continuing unrest since July, workers of mainstream parties, particularly the PDP, have found themselves at the receiving end of the wrath of protestors, and have been left to face them alone. PDP workers said that the party leadership did not establish contact with them after the unrest began, a fact that party officials concede.

In South Kashmir, the PDP bastion, the inability of the party leadership to reach out was perhaps felt the most. Workers and voters now find themselves unable to justify their support to the party in the face of recent events.

Karra said that the angriest protesters in South Kashmir were first-time voters who now feel betrayed by the PDP. This happened because “we had been cautioning them and requesting them to come and vote to evade the dangers we foresaw or propagated in the form of the BJP.”

As the current unrest in Kashmir continues, it remains to be seen who will win the elections to the newly-vacated Srinagar-Budgam Lok Sabha seat and to the Anantnag seat, which Mufti vacated earlier this year when she became chief minister.

A young voter from a PDP stronghold in South Kashmir said that he believed that though the party’s voter base was affected “a lot of the [electoral] politics is driven by resentment against the National Conference. People might still think that the PDP is softer than the NC.”

Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see the result of those elections.