The H-Hour

Floated during peak militancy as a grand alliance to resist Delhi’s rule in Kashmir, the Hurriyat Conference is presently steering another anti-India uprising in Valley with its signature protest calendars. Defined as departure from bygone dissents, 2016 has put separatist trio under acid test, reports Bilal Handoo

Hurriyat Troika.
Hurriyat Troika.

In the middle of that emergency cabinet meeting called after Burhan Wani’s killing triggered unabated bloodletting in Kashmir, the government spokesperson minced no words inside desolated civil secretariat to appeal its ideological adversary Hurriyat Conference to help restore “peace”. For the ruling PDP apparently toeing Omar Abdullah’s line to cage, curb and crackdown separatists despite floating “battle of ideas” tenet, the appeal once again made Hurriyat the “pacemaker” of Kashmir’s rebel pulse.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq responded Naeem Akhtar’s olive branch appeal quite tersely. “The statement of this gentleman [Akhtar] is ludicrous,” said the firebrand cleric shunning his ‘moderate’ image in current seething summer by giving fiery media bytes and jumping out of his well-guarded Nigeen mansion in protest. He had a word for Akhtar: how could those tagged as “threat to peace” restore “peace”?

In Kashmiri, he said, there is a saying naar viz kyur khanun—dig a well when there is fire—“This is what the Delhi’s Kashmir policy has always been.”

Seeking emergency help from those otherwise dismissed as Algauwaadis when Kashmir rises up in arms against establishment only shows Hurriyat’s significance, believes Altaf Khan, JKLF’s media chief.

Still, when Hurriyat is being castigated for lacking agenda-based politics, perceptions do go out of kilter. Flak aggravates when their detractors dub them “Hartal Conference” for their frequent hartal strategy. In grumble, many areas did flout shutdown calls lately, forcing Mirwaiz to invite civil society members at his old city’s ancestral house, Mirwaiz Manzil, for hasty brainstorming session to come up with alternatives. But nothing could supersede ‘strike strategy’.

But despite brickbats, the Hurriyat’s ability to bounce back at centre-stage of revolting valley only reaffirms that they have a major say in managing Kashmir’s “Sentimental Republic”.

People in Islamabad rally. (Photo: Aakash Hassan/KL)

People in Islamabad rally. (Photo: Aakash Hassan/KL)

Lately as Burhan Wani’s killing acted as “explosive” trigger for Kashmir struggle, the Hurriyat rediscovered its constituency. For the 23-year-old “separatist” camp spanned the rule of five J&K chief ministers, steering the colossal 2016 rage involving all ten districts of valley and parts of Jammu, has reportedly become an acid test. With Hurriyat announcing strike calls as an old antidote to resist “Delhi designs” in valley, calendars related costs have started entering the street debate.

“One thing can click for Hurriyat at the moment,” said Gowher Naaz, a Srinagar-based scholar writing research paper on Hurriyat’s resistance methods, “that’s its long wait and preparation for movement like this after being hounded by Omar and subsequently by Mufti duo since 2010.”But an obvious question remains: How much was Hurriyat prepared for something unprecedented like 2016 uprising?

“I believe, we all had heard that grapevine: things wouldn’t remain the same in valley after Eid,” the scholar said. “With Hurriyat warning people of protests over the controversial Sainik colonies and Pandit clusters after Ramazan, our fears almost turned certain. But Burhan’s killing only made it big for Hurriyat.” One slogan was in circulation since 2011: Khoon Ka Badla June Mein Leangay.

But Burhan didn’t make it a cakewalk for Hurriyat. His young supporters were seen pledging before media from an undisclosed place that they would prevent all attempts to end 2016 uprising on pattern of 2008, 2010 upheavals. This has put a new pressure on Hurriyat, an element that was not around in 2008 or 2010. Unlike 2016, 2008 was triggered by Amarnath land row and 2010 was triggered by civilian killings.

However the fiery youthful street-audacity didn’t surprise those who know the altering pulse of global events. “Being tech-savvy, Kashmiri youth are adept enough to draw parallels between Kashmir’s self-determination and global resistance movements,” said Tabrez Khan, a Kashmiri studying International Relations in US. “Hurriyat’s old ‘survival of struggle’ politics does turn off youth who are compelled to take things in their own hands. Call them fanatics or agents, but let’s not forget how Kashmir’s young are daring mighty India on streets with stones and face bullets in return. These youngsters are clear about their Aazadi, but problem is: Is Hurriyat clear about its resistance strategy?”

Mirwaiz said, “Yes, they are!”

But after the young rebel’s killing stacked up nearly 70 bodies, leaving 6000 plus wounded and hundreds blinded within 40 days, Hurriyat’s calendar politics faced youth defiance when hundreds of them began marching toward Lal Chowk lately.

That day, Hurriyat’s afternoon relaxation call couldn’t succeed in those areas where protesters with sticks and flags enforced their own curfew. The move apparently sent distressing signals in Hurriyat rank and file. “We don’t know who’s acting on the road right now,” Mirwaiz had a curt response on the situation.

At certain places, youth reportedly undid what Hurriyat wanted to do. This brazen street stir was enough to dismiss the enforcers as “rowdy elements”.

So stay advised, the Hurriyat summoned youth, “stop hooliganism, stop manhandling media and keep tab on illegal activities around”. The statement worked despite some breaches. When recently someone hurled stone at traders in Srinagar after 6pm relaxation call, he faced a literal public-flogging before taken to police custody. But at some places, angry young men reportedly torched grocery stuff of some traders to dictate over Hurriyat calendar.

Paramilitary soldier stands guard at a deserted Kashmiri main historical business hub Lal Chowk during strict curfew in Srinagar, on Thursday, 18August 2016. Curfew and curbs continued amid shutdown called by the separatist leaders as life remained paralyses in Kashmir for the 41th consecutive.PHOTO BY BILAL BAHADUR
Paramilitary soldier stands guard at a deserted Kashmiri main historical business hub Lal Chowk during strict curfew in Srinagar, on August 18, 2016. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL)

But as the seasoned executives of Kashmir’s defiance politics, Hurriyat stuck to its calendar strategy. Some commentators however have reservations over the efficacy of “used” and “tested” tools.

“I am no fan of Hurriyat’s feat when it comes to handle big movements,” a senior scribe said. “However, let us also admit that the present situation is no walk in the park for them. But then, here is the chance for Hurriyat’s renaissance.”

But as long as Delhi will continue playing ‘tricks’ to malign Kashmir struggle, till then, said Nayeem Khan, the Hurriyat is likely to stick to old guns.“Delhi is master in creating confusion,” said Khan, a senior Hurriyat leader who played instrumental role during 2008 uprising. “Like always, it wants to give an impression that Kashmir movement is run by dim-wits.” What is true though is that, Khan said, Vajpayee’s India is different from Modi’s Rashtra.

After becoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cut the Hurriyat to size. It ruled out any bilateral talks with Pakistan in case it continues engaging with Hurriyat. For Modi who apparently treats Kashmir a security than a political problem, Hurriyat leaders were nobodies until the fresh fury made them Delhi’s eventual “crisis-managers”, once again.

Presently with Hurriyat’s top leadership either confined to jails or houses, many seem to suggest that the Hurriyat should reconsider merging of low-level armed resistance in it for evolving a formidable civil resistance. “That will certainly rob Delhi off its terrorism talk,” believes Riyaz Masroor, a senior Srinagar-based journalist. “Otherwise when movements rely exclusively on rallies or protests, they become extremely predictable: sitting ducks for regime repression.” That Hurriyat needs a “strategy revolution” to emerge as “reckoning force” has remained a war-cry of opinion makers for long.

United Hurriyat Conference of yore.
United Hurriyat Conference of yore.

It was in December 1992, amid peaking militancy, when teenager Mirwaiz Umar Farooq called a meeting of different organisations to discuss “grand alliance” at Mirwaiz Manzil. Hardly anyone had a whiff of the possible outcome of the meeting. Seven months later, the outcome was the emergence of 21-member All Party Hurriyat Conference with boyish Mirwaiz Umar Farooq as its first chairman.

Many years later, Hurriyat was declared a “divided house” as leaders were classified as hawks and doves. In fall 2003, the Hurriyat split on the questions of proxy involvement in 2002 assembly elections. Delhi ceased the opportunity by engaging “doves” keeping the “hawks” sulking. But despite mired in different controversies — especially in 2010 when they “failed to capitalise” on big occasion — the Hurriyat remained relevant based on people’s backing and Pakistan’s belief that they are people’s representatives. “But Hurriyat’s inadequacies and failures aside,” said Mehmood Ur Rashid, a columnist, “this was the known and available form of leadership that Kashmir had in 2010.”

The Sopore 'Referendum Congregation'
The Sopore ‘Referendum Congregation’

With 2016 uprising already “cutting Kashmir through thousand cuts”, the Hurriyat listed its demands for return of peace to Kashmir, including rapid “demilitarization” process, repeal of “draconian” laws like AFSPA, PSA and others.

“We may have differences with Geelani,” the columnist said, “but he didn’t relent an inch, even when everyone thought he should at least drift by a foot.” Mirwaiz and Malik can be criticised for a million faults, he said, “but they represent resistance spaces”.

For ‘honouring’ the same sentiment, the “divided house” saw renewing unity efforts being coordinated from Maisuma in the run-up to the ‘explosive’ Eid. Nursing a chronic gruff against PDP-BJP government’s offensive against political space despite being harbingers of “battle of ideas”, the JKLF chief was seen striking a streak of semblance in resistance camp.

Now when the Kashmiri youth are giving tough time to state and Delhi on streets, columnist Rasheed said, public mobilisation comes to fruition only through the instrument of leadership.

“That leadership, in case of 2016 Kashmir,” he said, “is known to people in the form of Geelani, Yasin Malik, and Mirwaiz.” But the question remains: how long the calendars will last?

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