By Khursheed Wani
Twenty-three years ago, All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was launched under the leadership of teenaged Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, as a grouping of 23 political, religious and social organizations. The thread that weaved constituents together was their resolve to take Kashmir away from India. The grouping came into being after rebels shed a lot of blood for almost four years since 1989, pursuing their ideologies as to whether they should join Pakistan or remain an independent state after they secede from India.
Then, Kashmir was among world’s few conflicts and unresolved political issues. Every diplomat based in Delhi, especially Americans, were frequenting Kashmir. A visit to Hurriyat’s Rajbagh headquarters was a must and meeting with its leaders, a prospect. The Rajbagh office had virtually become the postal address of the Azaadi. Raj Bhawan was symbol of Indian rule in Kashmir, and Rajbagh symbolizing resistance to it. A globe-trotting Mirwaiz was a regular feature on any international venue from Casablanca to New York, where Kashmir issue was discussed.
Cut to 2016: The pro-azaadi camp is divided in fragments. Hurriyat now has two factions, each led by Geelani and Mirwaiz. The pro-independence JKLF, Jamaat-e-Islami, High Court Bar Association and Dukhtaran-e-Millat are almost equidistant from both. They are out of the Hurriyat frame with no coordination amongst themselves. The fragmentation is so ordinary that none of the factions counts its constituents. There is a People’s League or a Muslim Conference in each faction. Some groups are constituted by a few individuals, who portray themselves as leaders if one goes by their unwarranted press releases. One such leader carries a banner in his backpack and usually surfaces at public gatherings. He addresses people with the banner in backdrop, manages a camera click and vanishes.
The divided pro-freedom camp did not even remain the postal address of the ‘people’s sentiment’. They became mundane and predictable. At the height of 2008 agitation, one leader confronted his colleagues in a closed-door meeting called for devising a strategy. A top police officer called him as soon as he left the meeting chamber and complained on his explicit discourse. A mole in the meeting hall had reported the entire dialogue, as the leader told me later. His suggestions were going against the methods of the police officer who had gained enough influence on the group’s decision-making.
The year 2016 turned out to be the most challenging stage for the separatist groups and sub-groups. Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s demise after his inability to do anything concrete in almost nine months and the overzealous media threw an opportunity to the anti-India camp to capitalize on a brewing resentment. Mufti’s decision to forge an alliance with the BJP did not go down well with the common people. The policy-makers in Pakistan, too, were uncomfortable with the alliance. Those who are privy to the back-channel developments know that the resentment had been conveyed to Mufti. His daughter attempted to make some course-correction by refusing to takeover for three months but Delhi ensured that her wings were clipped before she took off.
This gives context to separatist leaders’ renewed urgency to get closer to each other. Before Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8, the three leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik framed “joint resistance front” and warned of a long-drawn agitation after Eid-ul-Fitr. The events unfolded exactly on the pattern they had sought it to be. In the five months after Burhan’s killing, a seminal chapter was written in the contemporary history book of Kashmir.
Year 2016 was a roller-coaster ride for the triumvirate. On one occasion, their word was enough to cripple normal life in Kashmir and render the state apparatus ineffective. By the end of the year, people began to ignore their call and ultimately forced them to wind up the protest calendars. To ‘resistance’ leaders’ dismay, the ruling PDP leaders including chief minister Mehbooba Mufti are no longer into hiding. From the promises of development to expressions of sorrow over the unbridled use of force to quell the uprising, the rulers are back to their brand of politics.
The rhetorical separatist statements are consigned to the inner pages of the newspapers, rightly so.
The situation again throws these leaders to hunt for innovative methods to pursue the politics of relevance. Leaders like Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah have faced bouts of irrelevance in their political careers. At one point in time, Abdullah was not even wished by anyone when he used to embark on lonely afternoon walk on Maulana Azad Road. This is the period when he began a campaign to reconstruct Hazratbal shrine, a pretext to reconnect with the people.
Sheikh’s politics of relevance brought him back to power albeit without limb and teeth. The separatist triumvirate is on the plank of resolution. Their politics of relevance requires more innovative methodology. The year 2017 is crucial for their existence.