Mirwaiz Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place

24 April 2009
The Times of India

Srinagar: It isn't easy being Mirwaiz these days. Faced with uncertainties, wrapped in his own dilemmas and buffeted by pulls and pressures, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is probably lucky he can't step out of his house - cops in Kashmir put him under house arrest for announcing a poll boycott. It's probably just as well that the boss of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat wasn't allowed to speak to the Friday congregation at Jamia Masjid. Because he wouldn't have sounded convincing at all, three days after he had publicly said that the Hurriyat, unlike before, would not ask Kashmiris to boycott polls that have become hugely popular in the Valley as the 68% turnout in last year's assembly polls showed. The 'azadi' band has waffled about elections - wary that publicly cheering polls would brand them pro-India. And for the Mirwaiz, the dilemma was made more acute when close aide Sajjad Lone announced his candidature for the Lok Sabha. Last week, when the Mirwaiz said that the moderate Hurriyat won't ask people to boycott the polls, separatist camps - still inspired and funded from Pakistan - issued fatwas against the amalgam. Mirwaiz quickly backed off. Umar Farooq has been a bit of a reluctant separatist. After the killing in 1990 of his father Mohammad Farooq - the former Mirwaiz of Kashmir, a religious title that also gave him a political role - Umar was put in the saddle when he was just 17. That forced him to become a separatist. In the changed political environment in Kashmir, Mirwaiz must find himself caught between a rock and a hard place, where his moderate views are portrayed as his commitment to India by his critics, including the militant groups and the hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.