Buoyed by the success of 2008 coordination committee of separatists which wrested back the state land from Amarnath Shrine Board, Mutahida Majlis-e-Mashawrat was formed to demand the return of mortal remains of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat. Without any proper organizational structure, the road ahead appears dark and desolate, Shah Abbas reports.
M utahida Majlis-e-Mashawrat (MMM), the amalgam of separatist groups and parties was formed to chalk out a ‘joint strategy’ to seek the mortal remains of 2001 Parliament Attack convict Afzal Guru who was hanged and buried in Tihar jail on February 9. However, instead of thinking out-of-box strategies to press their demand, the group is relying on protest and hartal calendars which have lost their significance with the common people.
The formation of MMM has, in fact, created a new problem by not defining the difference between protest and hartals. “People are being asked to protest. We fail to understand that if shopkeepers will open their shops, students will go to their classes, government and private employees will go to their offices to perform their duties, then who is there to protest, and how?,” asks Mohammad Maqbool, a resident of Kupwara, who works as a sales manager in a local manufacturing company.
Maqbool was among the hundreds of confused shopkeepers of Lal Chowk, the hub of Srinagar city, who were not in a position to decide what to do when MMM had called for a protest. A line of customers was waiting for the shopkeepers to decide on their course of action.
But MMM has a point. According to Advocate Zafar Qureshi, the president of Kashmir High Court bar Association (KHCBA) which is a constituent of MMM, people have observed shutdowns on their own. “See the latest protest calendar, MMM had not called for any shutdown except for one day. But the people pulled down their shutters on their own and hence created problems for themselves. The restrictions imposed by the government add to the miseries of the people.”
“Occasional shutdown calls is a very important part of ‘joint strategy’, especially for the time being. Every aspect of any call is thoroughly being discussed before made public in the MMM meetings,” Zafar said.
The death of two student, first in Hyderabad and then in Baramulla, changed the scenario. The MMM which had to work for the return of the body of Afzal Guru became involved in the situation which emerged with the killings of two Kashmiri scholars – Mudassir Kamran Malla in Hyderabad and Tahir Rasool Sofi in Baramulla. The joint platform created by the MMM which involved separatist leadership as well, started issuing calendars, instead of chalking out a ‘joint strategy’, even before the killings took place.
MMM claims that it comprises of the representatives of Hurriyat (G), Hurriyat (M), JKLF, Jamaat-e-Islami, Bar Association and Dukhtaran-e-Millat. But after the first protest calendar was issued, Hurriyat (G) distanced itself from the calendar, stating that they “were not taken into confidence” and their representative was “not present” in the meeting of MMM. Later, a Hurriyat (G) leader clarified that the statement issues earlier was a result of “lack of communication” because of the prevailing situation. He claimed that Hurriyat (G) representatives were present in the MMM meeting.
Leaving aside the fact that MMM faced controversies from day one of its formation, it has never been openly supported by Hurriyat (M), Hurriyat (G) or JKLF. There is not a single instance where separatist groups have used the word ‘MMM’ in their statements issued to the press.
“Any joint platform should have been formally announced by the frontline leadership in a joint press conference or through a joint statement. Mirwaiz Sahab was under house arrest, Geelani Sahab too was facing restrictions in Delhi and Yasin Sahab was in Pakistan. Shabir Shah and Nayeem Ahmad Khan are in jail. These are the known separatist faces. Then who formed the MMM?” asks a cleric who leads prayers at a mosque in Batamaloo on the outskirts of Srinagar city. He said that the members of any joint group or platform should have been made public to ensure transparency and avoid confusion.
But a senior, second-rung leader of the Hurriyat conference (M) has another view. “Professor Abdul Gani Bhat always takes the charge when Mirwaiz is not available. He also convenes and presides over the meetings of Hurriyat (M). Prof Bhat is believed to be a strong opponent of frequent shutdowns and protests,” he said.
His views were supported by another Hurriyat (M) leader, “Bhat had even called the 2010 uprising as ‘Hangama Arayi’. Bhat had called and presided over two meetings of Hurriyat when Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was undergoing house arrest in New Delhi but he had not informed Democratic Freedom Part of Shabir Shah and National Front of Nayeem Khan,” he said.
“This is a clear indication and proof that Prof Bhat does not take everybody on board,” said a general council member of Hurriyat (M). Well-placed sources told Kashmir Life that it was during these two meetings that the formation of MMM was discussed, “Later, the faction of Hurriyat close to Bhat nominated its representatives for MMM and it was done very secretly,” the source said.
“The mystery behind the organizational structure of MMM has added to our problems as well. We are not sure who to contact about any quote, version or explanation if necessary,” said a senior reporter who works with a prestigious English newspaper published from Srinagar.
Advocate Zafar however refuses that there was any mystery behind the organizational structure of MMM. “There is no spokesperson of MMM only to avoid controversies,” he said. Bar Association sends its representative to take part in the meetings of ‘the joint advisory council’ of separatists. “Our advice is totally legal and intellectual focusing on how we succeed in getting the body of Afzal Guru,” Zafar said.
MMM is the second joint committee between the separatist groups after 2008 Amarnath land row. The then coordination committee headed by the known lawyer, Mian Abdul Qayoom, successfully spearheaded the agitation against the government order of shifting 400 kanal state land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. The government later succumbed to the demands and revoked the order.
On February 24, the separatist parties with representatives from both the factions of Hurriyat Conference, Bar Association and others had formed a ‘joint advisory council’ which they termed Mutahida Majlis-e-Mashawrat. The mandate of the group was to chalk out a ‘joint strategy’ to seek the mortal remains of Afzal Guru.
The first meeting of MMM was attended by the representatives of Hurriyat (M), Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Jamaat-e-Islami and Dukhtaran-e-Millat. In the second meeting, Hurriyat conference led by Syed Ali Geelani also joined in.
“Various issues were discussed and it was decided that the common program will stand on one point; the demand for the return of Afzal’s body. The parties have also decided to demand stopping the spree of detentions, excesses and arrests of youth across the valley,” a statement issued by MMM had said.
But the task for the second co-ordination committee doesn’t look easy. It is demanding the return of mortal remains of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat. Guru and Bhat are buried in Tihar jail side by side. Both were hanged in the same jail in a gap of nearly 29 years. The ideological divide between the two factions of Hurriyat Conference has resulted in the ineffectiveness of the programs of MMM. Barring its shutdown calls, the other protest appeals are hardly followed by the people.
A statement issued by MMM on Friday is full of ambiguity and there is no clear strategy on what the amalgam intends to achieve, “The police don’t allow the members of MMM to meet. The moment we decide to sit down and chalk out a strategy, the cops impose restrictions,” a senior MMM member said.
With the situation threatening to spiral out of control and strict restrictions in place, the road ahead for MMM appears dark and desolate.