Hurriyat’s moment of introspection

By K.N. Pandit

Thirteen years ago, all Party Hurriyat Conference had announced boycott of State Assembly and Parliamentary elections. Ever since, it followed this policy. Today, as Kashmir like, other states of the union, is poised to cast votes for the 11th Parliament, the Hurriyat chief has said his organization would not ask the people to boycott elections. How do we interpret this change of heart if it is so?

First, did the Hurriyat always obtain consensus of opinion of its components to boycotting elections? That being the inner story, we can, at best, only speculate but not pass a verdict.

Actually the dilemma for the Hurriyat has been whether to fight the Indian presence in the State through negative means like strikes, hartals and boycotts or through available option of participating in elections and then resorting to internal subversion. Much can be said on both sides. But sine Hurriyat did not feel comfortable with exercising the latter option till now, it treaded the single path of unfailing boycott.

APHC has been a conglomerate of about 23 groups. Their common denominator has been secession from India. What would keep the flock together was this slogan, which obviously meant not accepting a government installed under Indian political structure.

That there has not been consensus of opinion on the subject of boycott of elections, and also on some other matters, is understandable from Ali Shah Geelani, once a very enthusiastic activist of APHC, carving out his own path and distancing from the main body of the Hurriyat. Likewise, even late Abdul Ghani Lone, the founder of Peoples League had fundamental differences with the Hurriyat, and he did not mince words.  He had to pay with his life for his independent opinion. It clearly spoke that even if there was a consensus, it was only pretentious and against the free will of the members involved.

After the exit of Ali Shah Geelani from the main body, observers began to talk of moderate and extremist elements in APHC. This concept grew from APHC’s willingness to open a dialogue with the Indian authorities from time to time. When it found that New Delhi was not averse to it exchanging ideas with Pakistani leaders, the moderate elements in the Hurriyat began to realize the fecundity of abandoning extremist posture and following the process of bilateral and multilateral dialogue.

Maulavi Omar Farooq, the youthful head of the APHC came to be recognized as the main moderating factor in the organization. Current history and his family background both combined to give him a special status. It should be remembered that he is the scion of a historical family of Kashmir, which is far ahead of any other leading Kashmiri house. In fact, the House of Mirwaiz of Kashmir has had a key role in the contemporary politics of Kashmir. It is this House, and in particular its patriarch late Maulavi Yusuf Shah to whom goes the credit of making Shiekh Abdullah what he ultimately became in the history of modern Kashmir.

When Shiekh Abddullah assumed administrative authority of the State on 28 October 1947 as Chief Administrator, one of the undemocratic and un-statesmanlike steps which he took was to banish what he called “pro=Pakistan” elements from the State. Some were asked to leave the state and others were asked to leave Srinagar city. Late Mirwaiz Maulavi Yusuf Shah was banished from the valley. He went to Muzaffarabad and stayed there never to return to Kashmir.

Among others, there were Pandit Premnath Bazaz, Kanhaya Lal Kaul and Jagarnath Sathu who were told to leave Srinagar. Bazaz headed towards New Delhi, Kaul first went to Sopor, and then to Baramulla and Jagarnath Sathu also got displaced. There were hundreds of others from the valley and from Jammu, all Muslims, who were pushed to the other side of the cease fire line. It is an irony that when Farooq Abdullah tabled the Rehabilitation Bill in State Assembly and demanded the right of Kashmiris stranded in PoK and Pakistan to return to the State, he forgot that it was his father who had banished most of them to the other side of the cease-fire line in order to get rid of resistance to his arbitrary and oligarchic rule.

The Mirwaiz House always commanded respect of all shades of people and all sections of society irrespective of their political affiliations. The reason is that the House has a long history going back to many centuries as the custodians of Jamia Mosjid in Nowhatta, Srinagar and being the Mirwaiz. Two shrines in Srinagar, the Jamia  Masjid in Nowhatta locality and Hazratbal –a few kilometers down the road —, are of great historical antiquity, which goes back to the days when Buddhism was in ascendancy in Kashmir and the Buddhist monks were trained at theses institutions to carry the message of Sakyamuni to distant Central Asia and China. As late as 1960s, the Lamas of Ladakh used to visit Jamia Masjid and do its circumambulation.

Amusingly, during the notorious sher – bakra stand off in 1930s in Kashmir, Hazratbal shrine came to be controlled by the National Conference or the party of Shiekh Abdullah, while Jamia Masjid became the headquarter of the House of Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah. It was from these two places that political parameters of State politics, the anti – autocratic agitation and state resistance were set. There is some truth in the statement that Kashmir anti-autocratic movement surfaced not from streets and markets but from mosques and shrines. Each contesting group saw to it that politics was mixed with religion no matter however palatable the public posture and slogan.

History lends very significant social and political status to the House of Mirwaiz.  That the House was secular in its attitude and dealings is proved in more than one way. Its inherent secularist credentials were diametrically opposed to National Conferences’ counterfeit secularism.  The House was a source of moral support to the Hindu minority group inhabiting the locality and the valley. Late Maulavi Farooq, the father of Mirwaiz Maulavi Omar Frooq was very popular with the Hindu minority of the valley, and he had maintained cordial relations with secular forces in the country. In a sense he was the real model of Kashmiriyat, something that was not acceptable to the rabid jihadis.

While focusing on the APHC chief, Moulavi Omar Farooq, we should not lose sight of this history. We should not be hasty in our judgment but understand events and personalities in a wider socio-political spectrum.

The bizarre question is what has made APHC change its 13-year old strategy of giving a call for boycott of elections. This is a very interesting and thought-provoking question. What changes have taken place that forced APHC to shun its hostility to election process? Only a week before the APHC decided not to give a call for boycott of elections, one of its stalwarts and the chief of the Peoples League, Sajjad Lone came out with a statement that he would be fighting parliamentary election. This had triggered speculation that there was some self-introspection in the APHC. The debate must have been going on for quite some time in the inner circles of APHC and Sajjad Lone took the cue

There are numerous reasons that must have contributed to self-introspection of the APHC.  From 1996 onwards, assembly or parliamentary elections have been monitored very closely by national and international media and by and large, apart from reporting a fair percentage of voters coming out to cast their valuable vote, the elections have been fair and free. No major incidents of rigging, miss-management or intimidation were reported. The international media, which included sections of print and electronic media from Pakistan, many Islamic countries and the western countries, had all appreciation for the free and fair elections conducted in Kashmir.

It will be recollected that President Clinton and President Bush both had openly advised the APHC to participate in elections and prove their credibility to the world media.  Even Pakistani press stated the fairness of Kashmir elections. Naturally, this has had an impact on the Hurriyat which is now more conscious of how the world community looks at it. It must have realized the negative effect of its poll boycott calls.

The second reason is a strong turnout of voters on the occasions of assembly and parliamentary elections in the recent past and in almost all parts of the state especially the hotbeds of separatism. Whatever the reason, one can say that by participating in massive numbers the ordinary voters conveyed the message that they want basic necessities of life, economic development, employment and necessary infrastructure like electric power, water supply, roads and traffic and a semblance of civil society with good governance. This has had tremendous impact on the policy hitherto adopted by the Hurriyat, and Sajjad Lone has been very candid in saying that while participation in elections doesn’t mean abandoning the main demand yet it is what the people would want to have today to overcome economic problems.

The third reason, and of no mean importance, is the volatile situation in neighbouring Pakistan. Hurriyat has, from the very beginning, accepted Pakistan a party to the dispute repeatedly saying that a lasting solution to the issue is conditional to Pakistan’s approval. Yet at the same time, APHC has been reiterating day in and day out that it stands for the freedom of Jammu and Kashmir. To make matters more complicated, the Hurriyat chief while eschewing call for boycott has again raked up the plebiscite issue.  Pakistan a party, aazadi and plebiscite in juxtaposition leave an ordinary Kashmiri on the horns of dilemma. All that it suggests is a confused personality unable to chart its roadmap.

The Hurriyat appears to have begun to realize that Pakistan is a state at war with itself. What the western powers characterized as fundamentalist terror is actually a war within the Islamic fold, the war between the liberals and the conservatives in Muslim society. This war has come to roost in its birthplace.  Relying on its super intelligence agency, Pakistan embraced the bravado of training, equipping and deploying civil militias better known as jihadis to fight its political battles against India, particularly in Kashmir, and now its religious crusades elsewhere. The US was her collaborator in whipping up religious frenzy among the mujahideen in war against Soviet Union.

Now not only the ruling authority in Islamabad but the very civil society of Pakistan is dragged to a final showdown with the jihadis who have established wide and deep network all over Pakistan, and interestingly, in the very bastion of Pakistani ruling authority and the breeding ground of jihadism, viz. Punjab. To the Hurriyat the jihadis are welcome as long as they fight the Indians on Kashmir soil. But what would it mean when these jihadis demand Kashmir Valley go the Swat Valley way?  What will happen to unveiled school, college and university going hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Muslim girls? What will happen to hundreds of thousands of educational institutions, professional and higher institutions of learning in the length and breadth of the valley which are filled with only Muslim females, both the teacher and the taught? These are disturbing questions for the Hurryatis and they know that Swat is not far away from the borders of Kashmir.

Hurriyatis are aware that fraternization with jihadis of Pakistan brand means polarization of Kashmir society into liberal and conservative groups, the hateful reincarnation of sher and bakra political foolhardiness. Fully aware of Kashmirian psyche when the ball is to be played, the Hurriyat is much wiser than the times.

Throwing open the LoC at several points in J&K has facilitated travel between the two parts across the line. Hundreds of Kashmiris, including senior political leaders, public personalities and commentators have availed themselves of a unique opportunity for the first time in six decades to know the people and the land on either side of the line with their own eyes. It has dispelled many myths especially nurtured by the valley people about the “streams of milk and honey” flowing down the streets of Muzaffarabad and Rawalpindi.  These visitors may pretend to be neutral about their observations and impressions but the facts speak more eloquently when nobody asks for a second visit. Visitors coming from the other side are surprised to find that apart from the fact that not a single mosque has been touched in Kashmir valley, hundreds of new and spacious mosques of modern architecture have mushroomed all over the valley. Above all, they cannot believe their eyes that real democracy — meaning freedom of press and platform— rules the roost in the Indian part of Kashmir. All this nullifies the stupendous propaganda which the Pakistani media has been relentlessly carrying on for decades and thus misleading the unsuspecting masses. These walls of fallacy and cobwebs of suspicion and doubts have been demolished by opening traffic between two parts of Kashmir. Hurriyat cannot remain unaffected by this happening.

Another aspect that will be weighing with the Hurriyat is that so far, Kashmiri Muslim community under the leadership of Hurriyat and some pro-Pak political groups have always tried to distance itself from the larger Indian Muslim community. Though they may not have adopted confrontational posture, yet deep in their heart they have disliked Indian Muslim community taking active part in nation-building process through democratic dispensation. Feeling that this stance of the Indian Muslim community weakens their “struggle for freedom”, they found solace in the lip-service readily available from the extremists Muslim segments in Pakistan. We have often heard Kashmiri Muslims trying to identify commonalities between them and the Pakistan (read Punjabi) Muslims but meticulously avoiding it in the case of a comparative study with Indian Muslims. If we accept the fundamental doctrine that Muslim society is a social-political-religious monolith, then Hurriyat’s aversion to Indian Muslims reflects it inherent psychological contradiction. It is a different thing that Indian Muslim leadership, especially of nationalist denomination, has seldom tried to drag the Hurriyat into an open and serious debate on its dissenting political views including giving calls for boycott of polling for assembly or parliamentary elections. In the broad sweep of Indian secular democratic dispensation, Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir is bound to find flowering to capacity in terms of freedom of thought, expression and movement.

J&K has taken big steps towards economic and social development during past two decades of militancy. This is a unique example of a federation fighting external predators in one of its federating units, and at the same time, successfully addressing economic development of the region. The Hurriyat appears to be feeling the pulse of the masses of people. Its change of policy has to be analyzed in that background.

Lastly, we should not attach much importance to some of the nuances of the Hurriyat leaders like “ultimate goal, election not a solution, peoples will, plebiscite” etc. as impediments to the return of full-fledged normalcy in the state. Kashmir political leadership of all hues has one most urgent issue to address and all have to join heads to find a solution. The issue is the serious threat posed to Kashmirian liberal Muslim society by the sharia-run jihadis in a vast region along her western border in which the control of the federating authority of Islamabad has altogether come to a naught.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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