Separatists Reach Out To People To Hog Talks Limelight
29 August 2007
The Indian Express
New Delhi: At a time when Kashmiri separatists seem to have been driven off to the edge of J-K's political discourse, JKLF supremo Yaseen Malik embarked upon a Valley-wide yatra to press for the much cliched demand of the separatists in the state-involvement of Kashmiris in the ongoing dialogue over Kashmir. The yatra, Safar-e-Azadi (freedom march), which started on May 20, has already crossed hundred days and covered south and central Kashmir. The effort, which is a first of its kind in Kashmir, involves an elaborate logistical arrangement. Before setting out on their journey, JKLF activists select a base, preferably in an accessible place where the workers could retreat for the night. Within no time, a village of tents comes up in an open space and the yatra starts rolling. In a specially designed vehicle for the purpose, Malik moves through the countryside in a procession. The starting is modest, but the yatra surges as Malik goes from village to village and stops occasionally to deliver a short speech. 'We seek our basic right, our right to decide our destiny and our right to be a primary party to the talks that will decide our destiny,' Malik says to an enthusiastic response from the gathering. 'Though Kashmiri separatists have also been engaged in a series of talks, the exercises have generally been photo-op sessions. Our inclusion is mostly ornamental.' Initially, the yatra was a day affair, situation changed when mercury rose around July and August and the public participation dwindled. Then, Malik started out on his march late in the evenings and ended it around midnight, a practice which still continues when the temperature has gone down by far and autumn is about to set in. The procession passes through villages illuminated by torchlights. Incidentally, there has been no hindrance to these night rallies even in the high security, militant-infested areas of Shopian, Tral or Bandipore, a development which can even be taken as a good measure of a steady improvement in the situation. However, Malik's yatra is about much more than just a demand for a place on the dialogue table. The initiative signals a deeper shift in the separatist politics in the state. For the first time in the past two decades, separatists see an urgency for building their grassroots base, a result, many would affirm, of the realisation of their growing marginalisation in the new political realities of the state. Not only Malik, Hurriyat Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and even People's Conference Chairman Sajad Gani Lone have undertaken separate public mobilisation programmes, after his 'mass contact initiative' in early spring, Mirwaiz is sending his workers on a Valley-wide door-to-door campaign. Similarly, Lone is opening up party offices in remote corners of the state. While Hurriyat and Lone have adopted a measured approach, Malik is going the whole hog. 'I want to create a direct bond with the people,' Malik says. 'We can no longer afford to take the support of people for granted.'