JRL Survives

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They might have issued a record number of strikes in 2018, but the JRL affiliates suggest that the survival of the newfound platform, despite curbs and restrictions, was something important in 2018, reports Saima Bhat

Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik.

Delhi avoided changing its hawkish stand on Kashmir, especially about the separatist leaders. In fact, the policy continued since 2014, when Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister and remained throughout notwithstanding the 2016 unrest. The Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), the new triumvirate of Kashmir politics comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik, according to the political commentators owes its genesis to 2016 unrest that took Kashmir by surprise in wake of Burhan Wani’s killing.

The JRL that apparently has overhauled the decadal breakups between multiple stakeholders in the separatist camps, usually doing and undoing the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), witnessed almost everybody including JKLF, Dukhtaran-e-Millat and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, working jointly for the triumvirate.

In absence of any talks between India and Pakistan, especially for the last more than five years, these separatists were sidelined under the doctrine devised by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. As a result, Geelani was mostly confined to his residence; Mirwaiz was confined to his residence for 113 times. The grand Jamia Masjid remained closed for 18 Fridays and Mirwaiz was not allowed to lead the prayers for 31 times in 2018 alone. On different occasions, Mirwaiz tried to defy his arrest eight times but he was arrested and lodged in police station Nigeen, his party sources said.

Malik was arrested 24 times, on the occasions when JRL had announced any programme or a bigger gathering was expected, where he spent at least 150 days in jails (up to Dec 25). The other two major faces Masarat Alam and Shabir Shah also continue to remain behind bars. The second-rung separatists continue to remain in custody after being arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in late 2017.

Despite all these restrictions, a brief lull was seen when the former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti attempted to rediscover her party’s political stance and spoke about engagement with all stakeholders. In an immediate follow-up, the then Police Chief SP Vaid announced that Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik were free to pursue their political activities.

That was March 30, Friday, when Geelani was allowed to offer the congregational Friday prayers, the first time in eight years, in local Hyderpora mosque. His Friday prayers came 11 days after he stepped down as the chairman of the Tehreek e Hurriyat (TeH) for his long friend Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai. Mirwaiz also delivered his weekly sermon in Jamia Masjid.

The government’s decision, however, did not last more than two days, and on April 1, the curbs on the trio were re-imposed. Both Geelani and Mirwaiz were again confined to their lawns. The restrictions were increased in wake of the Municipal and Panchayat elections that were held since October. But Malik turned ‘smart’, and to evade his arrest before any scheduled programme, he repeatedly went into hiding and sometimes managed to arrange a gathering. After coming out, he mostly was active visiting the families of slain civilians killed during the year.

Recently, Geelani was permitted to visit his daughter in Sopore, whose husband had died a natural death. It was during Governor’s rule.

The Year 2018 which is considered to be the bloodiest year with a maximum number of killings included the killing of four separatist activists as well.

The first killing happened on February 12, when Mohammad Yousuf Nadeem, a resident of Sandipora (Budgam) was shot and killed in Beerwah while going home. Nadeem was a former militant and was the spokesperson of Tahreek-E-Wahdat-E-Islami, an offshoot of Hizbul-Momineen and an organization affiliated with Hurriyat Conference (G).

The second killing was of another, Hakim-ur-Rehman Sultani, 45, who was killed at his home in Bomai (Sopore) on September 8, by some unknown gunmen. He had come recently out of jail after spending 20 months under the Public Safety Act. After his killing, JRL had called for a shutdown in Sopore, Zainageer to protest his killing. Recently, when this case landed in the SHRC, the police said he was killed by militants.

The third killing happened on October 11, when Molvi Tariq Ahmad Ganaie, 50, was shot dead by some unidentified gunmen in Meemandar (Shopian). He was a part of the Muslim League. Ironically, he was given gun salute by a militant group on his funeral, but police claim he was also killed by militants.

The fourth killing happened on November 21 when unknown gunmen fired upon a Tehreek-e-Hurriyat leader Hafeez Mir, 50, at his residence in Budroo (Achabal). He was district president of TeH. The killing took place on a day when the second phase of panchayat polls was conducted across the state. After his killing, the JRL strongly reacted to his killing and called for shutdown the next day.

Unlike 2017, when various delegations from Delhi came to talk, informally, 2018 was blank. Even the Prime Minister and Home Minister Rajnath Singh told media clearly on their consecutive visits to Kashmir that their man, interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma, is in Kashmir, and if the separatists have to talk they would have to do it with him. The talk started and ended with it.

Seeing it as a hardline approach, an insider said, initially JRL did not meet any of the delegations. “Their stand remained more or less rigid as they demanded some visible changes in the ground situation before something could be initiated,” a Hurriyat insider said. “But the government did not pay any heed to the demands like stopping of civilian killings, arrest spree, shifting of detainees out of the state, stopping NIA, vandalization of public properties, not allowing people to mourn the deaths, destroying the houses during encounters, operation all out against the Kashmiris. These approaches were a hoax. They had nothing to give.”

On November 14, however, political analyst and a track II activist, OP Shah met Geelani and TeH chairman Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai. He visited JKLF office as well, but Malik refused to meet him. There were also some efforts done by the Dialogue for Peace and Reconciliation group, and then recently, the former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who reportedly has said that he was invited by the Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar to Kashmir, met Geelani and Mirwaiz on November 23. But Malik was behind bars.

“He (Malik) was told that he is being arrested for the scheduled elections. Why wasn’t he arrested before or on the first phase of Panchayat elections and why before the second phase, on November 19?” JKLF insiders said. “Nobody knows why it did it happen?”

Earlier this year, in April, Bondevik was in Pakistan as well where he met many delegations including Mushal Mullick, the wife of Malik.

Besides that, there was increased support by Kashmiri Diaspora who held a couple of protests across the UK, Europe and USA that mostly grew during the scheduled hearings in Supreme Court for Article 35-A and Article 370.

But JRL insiders see it as ‘equal opposite reaction’ to the agendas and issues that were raised during this year like of permanent certificates for West Pakistan Refugees, separate pandit colonies, and the identity issues. “These issues made JRL stronger, and together, it could make their relevance in the field despite the fact that peaceful political dissent was the first causality of present governments in State and Delhi,” one JKLF leader said. “This (JRL) is a political gain for Kashmir. It was a wise decision and it kept the flame of resistance burning.”

“There is no political space for any resistance, and when it is regarding the TeH, then the laws become more stringent and others are given at least some space,” Sehrai told Kashmir Life.

Restricted to his house, Sehrai says he has no records of how many days he was without restriction but concludes with a famous couplet of Akbar Allahabadi,

Raqeebon ne rapat likhwai hai ja ja ke thaane mein
ki Akbar naam leta hai khuda ka is zamaane mein…

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