Is the Hurriyat Losing Its Relevance?
The Kashmir Valley’s separatist conglomerate, the Hurriyat Conference, might claim to be the true representative and voice of the Valley’s people but this claim is sounding increasingly discordant as well as desperate.
Years of fruitless protests, frequent hartals, shutdowns and violent rallies have neither helped the Kashmir cause nor furthered the fortunes of the Valley’s populace.
If anything, the Hurriyat’s thoughtless actions and blind determination to disrupt normal life has shattered the local economy and brought the people, particularly the poor, to the bottom of the barrel.
The tourism industry is on its last legs; thousands of houseboat, hotel and restaurant owners are without income for the past few years; industry has fled and no corporate is prepared to come forward to set up industry in the Valley.
The young people and children in Kashmir too face a bleak future. Their education is constantly disrupted by the shutdowns and rallies while violent behaviour is encouraged. Young people graduating from colleges and universities have no job prospects.
Despite all this the Hurriyat leadership, especially personified by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is on his last legs and has nothing to look forward to, continues to follow the same futile line of action of shutdowns, protests, street violence and propaganda of hatred.
Two generations of Kashmiris have gone down the drain because of this unending cycle of disaffection spread by leaders like Geelani and another generation is about to go down the same path. This is perhaps one reason why many within the Hurriyat feel it is time to change the course of action, and the agenda, if not the basic premise of the struggle.
Today, it is evident that there is a big difference in approach between the two main Hurriyat factions - the All Party Hurriyat Conference (G) led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the All Party Hurriyat Conference (M) led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
The Mirwaiz has agreed to talks with the Government of India while the faction led by Geelani continues to oppose such a move. There are many other differences beneath the surface which are not articulated by Hurriyat leader for fear of reprisals or accusations of sabotaging the movement.
Strangely, news of the Hurriyat faction’s readiness for talks first came from J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik last month. Some reports claim this was because of pressure from Pakistan, which is itself under pressure to stop terrorism in Kashmir. Others say it was due to the muscular policy of New Delhi which is squeezing separatists as well as terrorists and their over-ground sympathisers and helpers.
Whatever the reason, the issue of talks and continuation of the policy of shutdowns seems to have driven a wedge within the top Hurriyat leadership. Each of the two factions of the Hurriyat have several constituents all of whom have their own views about how to conduct the movement and move ahead for a resolution of the lingering Kashmir dispute.
It is said that even Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Chairman Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai is no longer amenable to the dictatorial stance taken by Geelani who once was in the same post. Having been chairman since last year, Sehrai appears to following a more moderate path and does not favour incessant shutdowns and so on. He is also closer to the Mirwaiz’s way of thinking.
Another problem is the tendency of the three big separatists - Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Md Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq - to usurp the separatist movement. This they have effectively done by floating the so-called Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). By doing so, they have in more ways than one side-lined the Hurriyat and proclaimed themselves as leaders of the Kashmir movement.
The common Kashmiris as well as many within the Hurriyat are also displeased with the news that several children and relatives of top Hurriyat leadership study; live or work abroad in comfortable circumstances while their lives and that of their kith and kin are spent pursuing a futile and endless struggle.
It is the rank and file of the Hurriyat as well as the lower level leaders who have to face police harassment, and often are jailed. Their children have no future while the privileged sections of the Hurriyat leadership enjoy peace and prosperity outside Kashmir Valley. All this is creating much soul searching and undermining the Hurriyat leadership.
No wonder then that Mirwaiz publicly responded positively to the issue of talks. He that if “meaningful” talks are initiated, “there will be a positive response.” Such a response suggests a more accommodative stand on the part of the Separatist lobby and could well reflect the majority opinion.
However, even this step could be little and too late. Many people within the state as well as in New Delhi are increasingly suspicious of the Hurriyat’s claim to be the sole representative of the Kashmir people. For far too long, the majority voice has been silenced. Perhaps now we will hear many more voices, opinions and idea on resolving the Kashmir issue.
18 July 2019