April 2004 News

Farooq Speech Leaves J&K Speechless

28 April 2004
The Asian Age

Srinagar: The parameters of the parliamentary elections have changed in Jammu and Kashmir. And no one has accepted these with more zeal than the newest convert, National Conference leader and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah. He is leaving the crowds speechless after every speech, embracing the hardcore militants and separatist policies as his own. 'There can be no talks without Ali Shah Geelani' is the latest Farooq-ism, as the passionate orator urges the crowds to support peace with Pakistan, talks with not just Geelani and the Hurriyat but with the Hizbul Mujahideen, and takes full credit for the peace process. This is the first election in the state where mainstream parties like the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party are competing to speak language that should make the Kashmiri separatists exultant. Chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, while endorsing the peace process and taking credit for the same, is a little more restrained than others. His daughter Mehbooba Mufti, however, more than makes up for his reticence and in her speeches has been urging the Centre to open talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen militants. But then, as Kashmir poll watchers point out, she has said most of this earlier, and to be fair to her she has been consistent in her 'talk to the militants' line. It is Farooq Abdullah who has come as the surprise. His 'bomb Pakistan' oratory has given way to 'embrace Pakistan' insistence, with the NC leader speaking passionately about the need to include Mr Geelani, who has been rejected even by the Hurriyat leaders, in the talks. There can be no talks without him, thundered the former chief minister who had, not so long ago, been advocating the hardline leaders' arrest. Dr Abdullah had been totally opposed to talks with even the moderate Hurryat leaders, and had taken a lead in running down the Kashmir Committee formed at the initiative of Mr Ram Jethmalani. Today Dr Abdullah, while campaigning against his main rival - the PDP - in the Valley, shows no hesitation in taking credit for the ceasefire effected by the Hizbul Mujahidden when his government was in power, although as chief minister he had opposed this vigorously. Both the NC and the PDP are accusing the other of not doing enough for the Kashmiri separatists. Mufti is blaming Farooq Abdullah for arresting Mr Geelani and taking the credit for releasing him and having him treated at government expense at a Mumbai hospital. Dr Abdullah has taken up Mr Geelani's case with equal gusto, now insisting that talks between Delhi and the Hurriyat would be meaningless unless he was involved. Again, the former chief minister is critical of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed for splitting the Hurriyat. In his new avataar as a Hizbul supporter, he points out that its leader Majid Dar was killed under the present state government. Kashmir has become a dispute for both parties during these elections, and the Union government is referred to as 'New Delhi.' Both leaders are playing on anti-India sentiments, observers in Srinagar told The Asian Age, and trying to convert this into votes. 'We have never seen this before, it is for the first time that parties like the National Conference are openly supporting the militants and even speaking their language,' the sources said. Kashmir is no longer an 'integral part' of India, Pakistan is no more an 'enemy,' and the militants are no longer 'terrorists' - with the new parlance even treating the Centre with a distance evident in the references to 'New Delhi,' highlighting Jammu and Kashmir as a separate entity.


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