Decline Of The Hurriyat And After
25 September 2003
New Delhi: The Hurriyat Conference's relevance has been increasingly challenged in post-election Jammu and Kashmir. THE SPLIT it suffered earlier this month is only the latest of the setbacks the All Parties Hurriyat Conference has faced in recent times. The movement for azadi, of which it was the public face, had lost much sympathy given the international mood against terrorism. The turnout in last year's Assembly election, despite the Hurriyat's boycott appeal not to mention the terrorists' threat, had made it clear that the Kashmiris were at least as concerned about good governance and their day-to-day problems as about azadi. The Hurriyat's relevance has been increasingly challenged in post-election Jammu and Kashmir. The grouping went so far as to accuse the State Government led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, which has been pushing its healing touch policy and for a dialogue between India and Pakistan involving all sections of the State, of hijacking its agenda. Of course, human rights violations have not stopped. Custodial deaths still take place. Such incidents used to provide the Hurriyat an opportunity to organise protest demonstrations and make its presence felt. But now senior Ministers visit the families of the victims first and announce relief on the spot. The National Conference and sometimes even the PDP chief, Mehbooba Mufti, fill the Opposition space. The National Human Rights Commission, too, has lately assumed a pro-active role and suo motu takes cognisance of human rights violations. This leaves the Hurriyat with little to do. Even the diplomatic corps in New Delhi and the national and international media are lukewarm towards it. To carve out a role for itself, the Hurriyat offered a dialogue with the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister before undertaking a similar exercise with the Pakistan Government. The offer was condemned by the militants. One outfit, Jamiatul Mujahideen, alleged that the 'conglomerate leadership was ready to enter (into) a secret pact with the Prime Minister'. It would certainly have seriously damaged Pakistan's case on Kashmir if this were true. For Pakistan had recognised the Hurriyat as the sole representative of the people of the State and had demanded its participation as a third party in final stage of the dialogue between India and Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Jamat-e-Islami leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, after his release from prison, was angry with the Hurriyat for not effectively campaigning against participation in the Assembly election and for not expelling the People's Conference representative from the executive committee for getting a proxy candidate elected who later joined the coalition Government. The Hurriyat refused to reopen the issue as it had already expelled those who participated in the elections; Mr. Geelani threatened to form a separate party. He suddenly announced that 12 of the 23 members of the APHC General Council had passed a resolution of no-confidence against the Chairman, Maulvi Abbas Ansari, and elected a comparatively unknown person as its new chairman. Later he himself accepted the position. Quite a few of the General Council members who had passed the no- confidence resolution were rebels in their own organisations. That some of them were recently released by the State Government adds a new dimension to the speculation about who had engineered the split. The Pakistan Government immediately recognised the Geelani-led outfit. What further complicates matters is the fact that Mr. Geelani has not been able to get the support of his parent body, the Jamat-e- Islami. Its Majlis-e-Shoura (advisory council) adopted a neutral posture and set up a three-member committee to hold unity talks with the other group. Besides, the JKLF, which had pioneered the militant movement in Kashmir, has refused to align with either of the rival Hurriyat committees. If an external hand was behind the split, it only shows how vulnerable Kashmir's secessionist movement has been to outside pulls and pressures. The Hurriyat had provided a common platform for ideologically and politically diverse groups - from pro- Pakistani outfits to champions of various forms of independence, from Islamists to secular Kashmiri nationalists. It was sustained, inter alia, by an urge for a Kashmiri identity and grievances against Governments at the Centre and in the State as also the security forces. This space has started shrinking as alternative voices of protest have made themselves heard and the limitations of violence to achieve objectives have got exposed. It is hardly likely that either of the two bitterly hostile groups into which it has split will be able to regain the elan of the united Hurriyat Conference. Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Farooq, its first president, laments that 'the people are deeply hurt and angry' over the split. How can this hurt and anger be channelled for the constructive regeneration of Kashmir? Above all, the situation demands statesmanship, vision and strategy of the highest order not only at the level of the State and its diverse constituents but also at the national level. It is only then that a process of dialogue can start on systemic changes - political, constitutional and institutional. If this opportunity for a major breakthrough in the troubled State is missed and the present policy of drift continues, it may lead to further sharpening of ethno- religious tensions.