Kashmir after Geelani: Can Delhi change gears in Kashmir?

Kashmir has grievances-such as the shrinking of autonomy over time, the introduction of security forces in greater numbers in response to Pakistani postures and fast climbing unemployment

Kashmir after Geelani: Can Delhi change gears in Kashmir?

Anand K Sahay

The resignation on June 29 as ‘chairman for life’ of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (Geelani) by the sick and ailing 91-year old Syed Ali Shah Geelani has shaken Kashmir to its political foundations. For decades the nonagenarian has been the forceful- and charismatic- spokesman of pro-Pakistan politics in the valley. His shock departure raises key questions, and opens new possibilities. Is New Delhi up to the task of forging a new direction in Kashmir in these circumstances?

Mr. Geelani’s action also leaves Pakistan at the crossroads. Islamabad will be in a quandary. It will have to devise credible fresh tactics in relation to Kashmir. This poses difficulties because Kashmiri Muslim (the valley’s overwhelmingly majority community) society has at no stage been inclined to be territorially or politically aligned with Pakistan.

For Islamabad, there is another serious difficulty- the absence of charismatic individuals of stature, although long-serving zealots and ideologues such as Ashraf Sehrai, a former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, are around.

A question is now also apt to arise as regards the fate of the local, proPakistan, terrorist outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, whose birth, conceived by the ISI, is thought to have had Mr. Geelani’s blessing. Besides seeking to challenge the security forces- “Indian occupation”- the HM is widely thought of as being the ‘shadow of the gun’ hovering over Kashmir’s politics for years, forcing mainline political actors to be extremely circumspect. Conse-quences are apt to be visited on those who get out of line.

Will youngsters fired by zeal resulting from many oppressive state actions still see the HM as their destination since Mr. Geelani’s public statement roundly criticizes his followers- in POK and in the Valley- of corruption, nepotism and hankering for official positions (in POK), or will there be a churning and other militant options emerge?

On New Delhi’s part, the BJP-RSS’ communal outlook and conditioning has led it to regard the people of Kashmir as being ipso facto pro-Pakistan, a singularly mistaken assessment. Acting on the false definitional basis of the religious divide alone, the Modi regime has instinctively failed to appreciate that it is the ideology of a few that makes them pro-Pakistan in Kashmir, and that these few stand in contrast with, and also in opposition to, the vast majority, and seek to subdue them through a combination of clever tactics and the subtle use offorce.

When policy makers overlook this, they do Pakistan a favour. Their actions lead to gross errors, serious miscalculations, and the sheer disregard of institutional underpinnings and instructions rooted in our Constitution. These became disturbingly apparent in the act of the Modi regime’s decision to constitutionally dismember J&K state on August 5 last year, and its subsequent policy framing and executive actions.

The unexpected departure of the Valley’s stalwart ‘Pakistan-only’ leader affords New Delhi the opportunity to re-group ideologically, politically, and morally. This is likely to be more than an uphill ask as the present dispensation in New Delhi is more at home with the use of brute force, which typically operates at the security and police level, instantly alienating people. It has conspicuously failed to show any understanding of traditional Kashmiri polity and mores, to say nothing of the nuances of democratic life and politics. The imagined Hindu-Muslim binary is its only suit. Nevertheless, Mr. Geelani isolating himself from the political scene does open a window.

When the All Party Hurriyat Conference took birth in 1993, there was a sense of anticipation in New Delhi’s Kashmir policy circles. Pakistan-nurtured militancy, after the rigged election of 1987, had been put down with sheer force, raising questions that trouble us to this day (human rights, the Kashmiri Pandit question). There was no political formation left on the ground with whose participation the post-militancy political chessboard could be re-fashioned.

There was no interlocutor left in Kashmir valley for New Delhi. The National Conference, J&K’s pre-eminent party, was left shaken after losing thousands of its cadres in the militancy years (1989-91) to the brutality of armed extremists for having ideologically prevented the integration of Kashmir with Pakistan in 1947.

The Congress was a major player in Jammu and Ladakh but not the Valley. Even so, its cadres were also brutalized and murdered in the rampage of terrorism. In this vacuum, when the Hurriyat emerged, some in New Delhi hoped that they at last had a group with which the Centre could do business. There were prominent individuals in it, such as the young Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Kashmir’s hereditary chief cleric and Mr Geelani, the hardliner. It soon became clear that such an expectation would be belied. With difficulty, then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao persuaded NC leader Farooq Abdullah to return from the UK to participate in the Assembly election of 1996, the first post-militancy poll, by declaring that “the sky is the limit” as far as autonomy for Kashmir was concerned.

Since then the Hurriyat has principally played the part of being a platform of anti-India protest. Coming more and more under Pakistan’s shadow, Mr Geelani broke away from the broad forum of separatist politics to establish his own faction in 2003, but coordinated protests with the Mirwaiz faction. With NC and the PDP Kashmir’s other regional party formed after the militancy- being rivals for power in J&K, the protest space was monopolized by the Hurriyat, especially the Geelani faction.

Kashmir has serious grievancessuch as the shrinking of autonomy over time, the introduction of security forces in greater numbers in response to Pakistani postures, inevitably leading to human right questions and alienation, and fast climbing unemployment. The Hurriyat, especially the Geelani faction, kept the people mobilized through shutdowns, ‘hartal’ calendars, and attending the funerals of slain militants.

And yet, following the clampdown after the ending of the J&K’s constitutional autonomy last year, the Hurriyat has been a silent spectator. It could give no leadership, possibly because many in its ranks were under investigation for money laundering and other serious criminal charges. The key mainstream party leaders were already in jail. This has fed into the broad narrative of Kashmir that while it responded to every call for mass action given by the Hurriyat factions, made sacrifices, suffered disruptions of everyday life, the Hurriyat leaders were living rather well and sending their children abroad for education. So, now the question: What political platform can now be the forum to guide people’s protests?

The Geelani faction could conceivably have carried on if Mr. Geelani had cited his serious ailments as reason for quitting. But he has accused his principal followers of corruption and nepotism. This cuts their brand value. The blowback can seriously harm the reputation of the Mirwaiz faction also.

If the Centre has any sense, in the post-Geelani politics it will abandon its quest for the so-called “new politics” for Kashmir by viciously suppressing the NC, the PDP, and the Congress, eventually seeking their dismantling, and promoting small-timers and carpet-baggers through a quisling party.

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