Hurriyat At Cross Roads

9 November 2009
Kashmir Times

Srinagar: Fragmented separatist movement in Kashmir, represented by the rival factions of the All-party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and smaller groups affiliated to each of them, seems to be headed for an unfamiliar course. Events of the last few weeks indicate the probability of the APHC being confronted by none-too-easy choice of taking a clear cut position over some of the critical political issues and also forging a larger political alignment in pursuance of its avowed ultimate objective of finding a final solution to the Kashmir dispute in consonance with the aspirations of the people of the state (read Kashmiris in this particular case). There are various aspects of this development. Firstly is it possible even in distant future for the rival factions of the APHC to formulate a joint approach even while maintaining their existing separate entities to which both seem to be wedded almost irreversibly? But, as the APHC group led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani claims, it is not merely a question of organisational identity or a political tag but an issue of one's 'basic ideology', unification between the two factions looks to be improbable at this stage. Besides, the personality factor has proved to be a major factor all through the history of Kashmir politics. It is an irony, from that point of view, that consolidation of the popular movement continues to elude its leadership despite their ostensible commitment to a common goal. Even the pressure from its 'underground' entity has failed to keep the Hurriyat leadership together. The distance between the two, in terms of personalities, politics and ideology, has been increasing over the years. Open differences over issues of critical importance to the future of the separatist movement, as well as the Hurriyat's own future, have been pulling the rivals apart. It was in the thick of this process of their separation that both the factions were literally overwhelmed by last year's unprecedented self-induced mass uprising across Kashmir Valley over the Amarnath land row. The land controversy only provided the trigger for something that was waiting to happen, in spite of the divided Hurriyat and, certainly, not because of them. That it was an upsurge led by the motivated masses became clear to the Hurriyat as one of its factions (Geelani) sought to encash the situation by claiming to be its sole leader. Such was the depth of its adverse impact that the move had to be reversed by its promoters within 24 hours to save itself from the wrath of the masses which was beginning to show itself up. Since then the question of the leadership in the separatist camp has become more ticklish than before. Even so, the general impression as also the common impression is that, between the two Hurriyat camps, Geelani's side enjoys greater weightage. It is not possible to quantify such differences so one has to go by the trend of prevailing public perception. The significance of this particular factor assumes greater significance in the present context. Serious efforts are underway to approach the basic problem one more time. This attempt appears to be a more serious one though by no means a sure shot to take the process to its elusive logical end. Resumption of dialogue is an essential pre-requisite to proceed along this course. While the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led APHC has more or less opted to take this course, the rival group led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has so far not relented. Keen observers have, however, not missed the delicate nuances of Geelani's latest stand on the question of dialogue to which he was averse in the past. There are credible indications that discreet contact has been established with Geelani by the concerned quarters. What is the end result is, however, hazardous to predict. But one thing is for sure; Geelani's total exclusion from the dialogue process would largely affect its credibility as well as legitimacy. There is a historical precedent to appreciate the need for addressing this point. The gains of the 1975 Kashmir Accord between the tallest Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Indira Gandhi had failed to address the simmering discontent until it burst open in full fury in 1989-90. Space created for the Plebiscite Front was too narrow to cater to the unrest effectively although PF rivals in the separatist movement were seemingly so small. Almost a similar scenario is emerging now. It has confronted the Hurriyat in particular and its separatist movement in general with critical choice that is bound to have a profound impact on the future of both. Likewise, the ultimate success or failure of the Indian government's promising initiative depends on its ability to draw appropriate lesson from the relevant past.