Hurriyat on the horns of dilemma

By K.N. Pandit

On its positive side, the flip-flop of All Party Hurriyat Conference in the context of elections to the eleventh parliament has revealed how seriously it needs to address the question of participation or no-participation in the democratic political process of the state.

On the negative side, the bizarre situation does appear somewhat comic.  Will the leaders of “moderate” faction succeed in infusing new thinking among its followers, especially the younger generation, and yet keep the flock together is the crucial question. In a sense the APHC has come to a stage in its history where it needs harmonizing emerging political pragmatism with its standard public posturing. Perhaps Hurriyat seniors did not expect that the fallout of its first statement (of no call for boycott) would evoke a situation of law and order in Srinagar. The reaction of the people was commensurate with the anti-Indian- presence hype created by the separatist elements over past two decades.  

Around the middle of April, when Kashmir, like other states of the Indian Union, was geared to casting votes in the parliamentary elections, the Hurriyat made a sudden deviation from its known stand and came out with a public statement that in regard to casting votes, it would like people to go by their conscience. There was no mention of a call for boycott of polls. A couple of days later, corroborating Hurriyat’s revised approach, Prof. Abdul; Ghani Bhatt, former chairman of the Hurriyat, explained that people in Muslim majority segments of Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Bhaderwah, Ramban and other places in Jammu region had never responded to Hurriyat’s previous boycott calls. Since, as usual, they would not deny themselves the right to franchise, it, obviously makes little sense for the Hurriyat to call for boycott of polls in Kashmir, he added.

This no-boycott stance of the Hurriyat leadership gave immediate rise to large scale resentment by the people in Srinagar. They came out on roads to demonstrate their opposition to this decision, burnt the effigy of Maulana Ansari the former Chairman of APHC and forced state security apparatus to control unruly mobs from vandalizing public property.

Sensing the anger and resentment of the people, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq has now reversed Hurriyat’s earlier statement and issued a call to the people to keep away from voting for election of representatives to the Lok Sabh arguing that “polls have no locus standi in resolution of Kashmir issue”.

Which of the two positions adopted by the conglomerate, but contradictory in essence, can be called well-considered and well-meditated one? Did the Hurriyat always obtain consensus of opinion among its components in the past to the boycott of elections? History tells us that though outwardly the conglomerate tenaciously held on to no-participation policy yet there has been dissenting voice within the fold on this and other contentious issues. Moreover, the phenomenon of fielding proxy candidates, too, points to divergent opinions in Hurriyat echelons on the subject.

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 — all taking succour from overt and covert support of the militants — or through the option of participating in elections and then resorting to internal subversion on the basis of majority vote. Much can be said on either side. Unfortunately, since Hurriyat has surrendered much of its freedom of expression and action to a remote control, it did not feel comfortable with exercising the latter option till now. The reason is that the Hurriyat knows it is not the only political voice in Kashmir. There have been some voices in Kashmir like that of Hashim Qureshi reminding Hurriyat of the efficacy and relevance of Gandhi Ji’s principle of a non-violent political movement. But masses indoctrinated with religious frenzy for several decades are not the raw material for convertibility to the ideology of non-violence.

APHC is a conglomerate of about 23 groups. The common denominator of these components is secession from India under the rubric of “azaadi”. What keeps the flock together is the slogan of boycotting elections. Its thinking is that participating in elections means accepting a government installed under Indian political structure, something that makes them accept State’s accession to the Indian Union as final.  In other words, a government elected by the people of Jammu and Kashmir out of their free will and with fairness endorsed by international community is not acceptable to the Hurriyat nor are its decisions when the government is formed constitutionally.  By arguing that elections “have no locus standi in resolving Kashmir issue”, the Hurriyat means to say that the people of the State have no “locus standi” or competence to take a decision on the issue. Who has the competence if not the people of Kashmir? Isn’t Hurriyat suggesting a contradiction in terms? There are other questions as well.

The first question inviting our attention is this: Has there been always a consensus of opinion among the conglomerate on the vital issue of boycotting elections to the assembly or the Parliament? History tells us that notwithstanding its outward posture on the subject, divergent opinions have recurrently caused dilemma to the organization.

This is true not only of boycotting elections but of many other important issues as well. Ali Shah Geelani, once a very fervent activist of APHC, carved out his own path and distanced from the main body of the Hurriyat thereby proving that the APHC did not see eye to eye with radicalization of Kashmir. Likewise, even late Abdul Ghani Lone, the founder of Peoples League had his independent thinking and did not hesitate to express it whenever needed. It revealed another ideological dimension of the Hurriyat.  Lone had to pay with his life for his independent and unorthodox views. All this clearly indicates that even if there was a semblance of consensus in the organization, it was only pretentious and against the free will of the members involved. In other words we may say that deep inside the APHC, a tussle of interest between extra-territorial actors and indigenous opinion makers is holding the organization in its grip.

With this preliminary, let us try to examine the compulsions under which the Hurriyat leadership was goaded first into giving a no-boycott call and then reneging within a week and taking the reverse stand.

After the exit of Ali Shah Geelani from the main body, observers began to talk of moderate and extremist elements in APHC. This concept developed from APHC’s willingness to join a dialogue with the Indian authorities from time to time. On finding that New Delhi was not averse to Hurriyat exchanging ideas with Pakistani leaders, the moderate elements in the Hurriyat began to realize the fecundity of turning away from extremist posture and cultivating the process of bilateral and multilateral dialogue. Its international exposure obtained through OIC and Pan-Islamist chapters also reinforced this line of thinking.

Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, the youthful head of the APHC came to be recognized as centrifugal moderating force in the organization. Why was it so? Current history of Kashmir and his family background both combined to give Mirwaiz Farooq a special status in Kashmir’s social and political construct. 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 Sheikh Abdullah what he ultimately became in the history of modern Kashmir.

When in the aftermath of Pakistan’s incursion in 1947, Sheikh Abdullah assumed administrative authority of the State as Chief Administrator, one of his undemocratic and un-statesmanlike steps was to suppress his political and ideological opponents and dissenters in the State. He considered them a threat to his despotic rule and brought various but mostly untenable accusations against them.  He forced some to leave the state while some were banished from Srinagar city. Banished from the valley, late Mirwaiz Maulavi Yusuf Shah went to Muzaffarabad in PoK never to return to Kashmir. Those who had to leave the city of Srinagar included intellectuals like Pandit Premnath Bazaz, Advocate Kanhaya Lal Kaul and Jagarnath Sathu of the Daily Telegraph, all accused of being staunch Radical Humanists of M.N. Roy’s School. 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 in 1947-48. 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 late 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 capricious rule.

Liberal and democratic to the hilt as he was, Prime Minister Nehru, with his abounding benefaction for the Sheikh, turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the protests of the then Head of the State, late Maharaja Hari Singh, against Sheikh’s despotic and arbitrary administration lodged formally through the Indian Home Ministry. All that Nehru did was to secure his protégé against accountability by asking his Home Minister to transfer Kashmir file to him and hastening Hari Singh’s dismissal in contravention of a formally signed deal with him.

The Mirwaiz House has always commanded respect of all shades of people and all sections of society irrespective of their political or ideological affiliations. The reason is that the House has a long history going back to many centuries as the custodian of Jamia Mosjid in Nowhatta, Srinagar and also as being the Mirwaiz of Kashmir. Two shrines in Srinagar, the Jamia  Masjid in Nowhatta locality and Hazratbal — a few kilometers down the road —, are of great historical antiquity that goes back to the days when Buddhism was in ascendancy in Kashmir and the Buddhist monks were trained at these centres to carry the message of Sakyamuni to distant Central Asian Steppes, Mongolia, Tibet 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 Sheikh 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 – autocracy agitation and resistance were set. There is some truth in the statement that Kashmir anti-monarchical movements (both Muslim Conference and National Conference) surfaced not in streets and markets but in mosques and shrines. Each contesting group saw to it that politics was mixed with religion notwithstanding attractive slogans and banners of communal harmony exhibited frequently in their meetings and rallies.

History lends a significant social and political status to the House of Mirwaiz. That the House was secular in its dealings is proved in more than one way. Notwithstanding its Pan-Islamist proclivity, Mirwaiz House’s inherent secularist credentials stood diametrically opposite to National Conferences’ counterfeit slogans of communal harmony.  The House was a source of moral support to the Hindu minority group inhabiting the locality and the valley. Late Mirwaiz Maulavi Farooq, the father of Mirwaiz Omar Frooq commanded trust and respect of the Hindu minority of the valley, and he had maintained cordial relations with secular leadership in the country. In a sense he was the real model of Kashmiriyat, something that was not acceptable to the rabid jihadis and pseudo-secularist political class in Kashmir.

While focusing on the APHC chief Maulavi Omar Farooq who is labeled as the outstanding leader among moderates in the Hurriyat, 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 this:  two weeks ago what made APHC change its 13-year old strategy of giving a call for poll boycott? And a week later what made it renege its earlier decision. These are very interesting and thought-provoking questions. What changes have taken place that forced APHC first to shun its hostility to democratic process but on second thought to reverse the stand and clinch it one again?

Only a week before the APHC decided to tell the people to follow their conscience and not ask them to boycott 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 a 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 at some stage to APHC’s self-introspection and reappraisal of its stand on elections. 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.  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 in 2002. Official representatives from a number of embassies in New Delhi, who were physically present at the polling in Kashmir also corroborated the observations of media persons

It will be recollected that two former US Presidents, Bill Clinton and George W Bush, had seriously advised the APHC to take part in elections and prove their popularity with the masses.  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. Hindsight forces APHC to realize the negative effect of its poll boycott strategy.

The second reason is a strong turnout of voters in almost all parts of the state especially the hotbeds of separatism at assembly and parliamentary elections in recent past. Whatever the reason, one can say that by participating in the polling process in large numbers, ordinary voters conveyed the message that basic necessities of life, economic development, employment and necessary infrastructure like electric power, water supply, roads and traffic together with a semblance of civil society under good governance were their priorities. Hurriyat would not want to be foolhardy to ignore and overlook the message. From here rose the new thinking that contributing to the economic development of the State and mitigating pressing day to day problems was a subject different from finding a lasting political resolution of Kashmir dispute. 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. This was the realization behind Hurriyat’s first statement that it would ask people to respond to polls according to the voice of their conscience. It was subtle acceptance of ground realities in Kashmir.

The third reason, and of no mean importance, is the volatile situation in neighbouring Pakistan. Hurriyat has, from the very beginning, considered Pakistan a party to the dispute repeatedly saying that a lasting solution to the issue is conditional to Pakistan’s agreement. Yet at the same time, day in and day out, APHC has been reiterating that it stands for the freedom of Jammu and Kashmir. To make matters more complicated, the Hurriyat chief while eschewing call for boycott again raked up the plebiscite issue. Ideas like Pakistan a party, aazadi and plebiscite all put in juxtaposition leave an ordinary Kashmiri on the horns of dilemma. All that it suggests is a confused Hurriyat bogged with its dilemma over charting a 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 adventured 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 that are stuffed with only Muslim females, both the teacher and the taught? These are disturbing questions for 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 leadership is no naïve, but far ahead of its 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 media persons have availed themselves of a unique opportunity for the first time in six decades to know the people and the land on other side of the line with their own eyes. It has dispelled many myths especially nurtured by the valley people about “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 out for decades and thus misleading the unsuspecting masses. These walls of falsehood 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 has 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 and anti-India 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 of Indian Muslims reflects its 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 poll boycott calls 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.

These compulsions are not easy to brush aside. Yet despite that Hurriyat’s retracting of no-boycott call has come in the wake of angry protests of people in Srinagar and the burning of the effigy of Maulavi Abbas Ansari, the former Chairman of APHC.  APHC’s vacillation reflects its inability to reinforce its ideological standpoint. At best withdrawing of earlier no-boycott call proves that the Hurriyat is on the horns of dilemma and the flip-flop predicts more cleavages in days to come. Its reneging from earlier statement is to be linked to recent pronouncements of Muzaffarabad–based Jihad Council headed by Sayyid Salahu’d-Din that escalation of fighting in Kashmir is on the anvil. Salahu’d-Din must be taking cue from the success of the Taliban in Swat and in expanding their forays into Pakistan mainland. There are reports that infiltration of jihadis into Kashmir with much more advanced weaponry and training is ISI’s new plan for its battles against India in Kashmir.

This makes the task for Hurriyat much more difficult. The first statement could have been made to test the quantum of its hold on public opinion. As the backlash was forceful and those holding the remote control showed they were uncompromising, the Hurriyat has been left to eat the humble pie. But all said and done, undoubtedly, the Hurriyat cannot avoid devising some mechanism that ensures its assertive role based on political pragmatism and visionary leadership.

In the process, Hurriyat knows well that 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 and democratically 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 segment 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).

Comments are closed.