An Open Dialogue

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by Khursheed Wani

The Hurriyat Conference leaders would not directly call Governor Satya Pal Malik to complain about “atrocity and injustice” nor would they send a representative to Raj Bhawan with a list of complaints. Many moons ago, they refused to talk to a group of parliamentarians when they knocked their doors. The MPs were part of a bigger delegation led by Home Minister Rajnath Singh camping in Srinagar to find ways to reach out to a rebellious population.

Malik, a politician, knows the facts and the format. Yet he chose to give unsolicited advice to the separatists while discussing the ground situation in Kashmir in his own perspective. By invoking Hurriyat leaders, he was targeting People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti who looks compelled to embark on an arduous journey to rediscover her lost ground. Last month, Mufti travelled to Shopian and Pulwama to meet with families of militants. She addressed to the Governor to intervene in mitigating the suffering of these families.

The Governor made a distinction. While taking cognisance of Pulwama case where women relatives of a slain militant were subjected to humiliation by police in Jammu, Malik said Mehbooba was taking up the issues to regain her lost ground. To offset her politics, he suggested Hurriyat leaders to report “atrocity and injustice” to him while acknowledging their space and validity to agitate. In a sense, Governor encourages the distinction between separatist and unionist politics in Kashmir and loathes the renewed attempts to create a quasi-separatist space. Post Burhan Wani era saw PDP losing this space.

Malik also denied that Operation All Out was a reality. Was he belying Rajnath Singh and General Bipin Rawat? Was he refusing Farooq Abdullah to build his new politics on the premise that if his party returns to power they would call off this operation? The governor has no love lost for separatists. On the ground, the separatists continue to go through the worst ordeal that began after Narendra Modi took over the reins of power in Delhi. Modi’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s objective was to dismantle the separatist castle in Kashmir. Engagement with them was called ‘pampering’ to be done away with as a state policy. The manoeuvring space for the separatists was fully choked, their contacts disjointed and manpower put behind bars or under strict surveillance.

The severest blow to the separatist camp came through the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that conducted a massive crackdown to shake the foundations of the separatist infrastructure. Confidantes of several top leaders and heads of various groups including Shabir Shah, Aasiya Andrabi and Naeem Khan were put behind the bars and innumerable raids were conducted on their residences.

On the face of it, the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) triumvirate – Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, is not jailed but restricted to the four walls of their residences. Barring the day when on the demise of his son-in-law, Geelani was allowed to travel to Sopore, he is perpetually under house-arrest.

Once a globe-trotting leader, often engaged in discourses at international level, Mirwaiz Farooq must have forgotten the check-in procedures at the international airport. Now, he is also put under house arrest during volatile situations as the overall atmospherics do not allow him to venture out of his Nigeen mansion. His public contact is often reduced to fair-weather Friday sermons.

Likewise, Yasin Malik occasionally gives a slip to police to lead a proposed march before landing in police lock-up. He has spent these years in and out of police lock-ups or Central Jail barracks.

Observers say the state’s harshest policy on separatists has boomeranged. When the separatists were a “pampered lot”, they were divided in countless groups, often ready to pull each other down. Even the outlook and activism on engagement with stakeholders left the daggers drawn at occasions. This animosity led to grenade attacks and murders of many a sidekick of leaders in the past in inter-group clashes. The state’s suppression compelled the separatists to relegate this conflict to the back burner. In fact, the triumvirate representing the ‘public sentiment’ nowadays did join hands in response to this state policy.

Noted political analyst Prof Gul Wani observes that during the past several years, the unionist politics suffered a huge dent in Kashmir in terms of credibility and acceptance. On the contrary, he says, the separatist politics found relevance and people began identifying with it more assertively than before. It is in this backdrop that unionist parties followed suit when separatists called for protests against the attempts to abrogate the special constitutional provisions to Jammu and Kashmir. The decision to stay away from panchayat and municipal polls was also a seminal development.

The separatists responded to Governor Malik’s contention with a customary press release emphasising that Operation All Out was really being carried out and statistics on Cordon and Search Operations were going on. Given the context of the assertion, the separatist response should have been more nuanced.

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