Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 36, Dated Sept 13, 2008
It’s time to think out of the
box. New Delhi must start
talking to the Hurriyat, says
HARINDER BAWEJA. A ground
report from Srinagar
JAMMU HAS been sorted, but how do
we handle Kashmir?’ is the mostasked
question in the corridors of
power in both New Delhi and
Srinagar. The frightening truth is
that few policy makers occupying the high
chairs in both cities have any ideas on how to
deal with a situation they have never once
encountered in the two decades that they have
been “administering” Kashmir.
Their worst nightmare unfolded on the
streets of Kashmir when a sea of protestors
went wherever the Hurriyat Confernce leadership
asked them to come. One day to Idgah, to
Pampore the next. To the United Nations’ office.
To the Jama Masjid on Friday. They came
armed, not with AK 47s but with stones. They
carried black flags to protest the economic
blockade of the landlocked Valley and the administrators
didn’t know what to do with the
thousands of women, men and children, for not
one of them was armed. How do you silence
the roar of a peaceful rebellion?
The men in uniform — extensions of those
occupying the high chairs — did what they
know best: they opened fire. Not in the air, not
on their legs, but straight into their chests.
They did not use water cannons. They did not
arm themselves with rubber bullets. They simply
pulled the trigger. The counter-insurgency
weapons with which the security forces have
been trying to quell the popular uprising were
pressed into action once again.
After killing 40 people, including Hurriyat
leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz, the crowds still
spilled out of Srinagar’s bylanes, and the Centre
didn’t know what to do. When the Kashmiris
protested the state government’s order
transferring 800 kanals of land to the Amarnath
Yatra Shrine Board, it forced a reluctant
Ghulam Nabi Azad — the Congress Chief
Minister — to rescind the order, ignoring the
possibility of the violent reaction from Jammu.
Firefight — that’s the one word that lies at the
centre of New Delhi’s response, and it has
moved from one kneejerk reaction to another.
When for the first time it had both regions on the boil — Jammu fighting Kashmir and Kashmir
pointing a finger at Jammu — Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh asked his Home Minister,
Shivraj Patil, to lead an all-party meeting to both
places. Patil returned having made a gaffe at each
place. In Jammu, he agreed to hold the meeting
without Kashmir’s mainstream leaders Farooq
Abudllah and Mehbooba Mufti because the
Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti representatives
refused to attend otherwise. In Srinagar,
senior officials were astounded when, in an attempt
to answer the question of opening the
Muzzafarabad trade route for the apple growers
whose fruit was rotting, he said the CRPF would
buy it and sell it to school children in Kashmir.
Patil returned so unsuccessful, he was subsequently
kept out of New Delhi’s attempts at
brokering some sort of a tentative piece. Manmohan
Singh roped in his troubleshooter,
Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherji,
into his core team. Manmohan Singh, in fact,
did what previous PMs, including Atal Bihari
Vajpayee, did in the past — run the Kashmir
policy from the Prime Minister’s Office. And
when the PM called the Kashmir leadership to
run the peace formula it was offering the Sangharsh
Samiti, which had shut down Jammu for
a full two months, Farooq, Omar Abdullah,
Azad and Saifuadin Soz were surprised to find
that the home minister was not even present in
that all-important meeting. Pranab Mukherji,
not Shivraj Patil, was seated next to the PM.
SO, IN a manner of speaking, New Delhi
is content that Jammu has been sorted
out. But what about the regional divide?
And what about the crowds on the street
who were marching past heavily barricaded
bunkers, unafraid of what the men in uniform
have demonstrated themselves to be capable
of? The PM flew in his National Security Advisor
(NSA) and Director, Intelligence Bureau, to
make an assessment of Ground Zero.
The direction provided by NSA MK Narayanan
did not necessitate a visit to Ground Zero.
What followed his visit was the darkest the Valley
has ever seen. Clamp down. Block the streets.
Black out news channels. Disrespect media curfew
passes. Polish your guns. Arrest the Hurriyat
leaders. Impose stringent curfew. In other words,
convert the entire Valley into one large prison.
Suppress the slogan for azadi.
All this was done one day before the march to
Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on August 25. New Delhi
feared that thousands would march to the historic
square and pass a resolution declaring independence.
In other words, New Delhi thought
it best to iron fist them, lest they declare a
plebiscite. For an entire week, the Valley stayed
cut off from the rest of the country; the rest of
the world. Television screens ran blank. Newspaper
offices stayed shut, as did schools and colleges.
Journalists who ventured out were beaten.
Not trusting its own abilities to prevent crowds
from coming out in protest, the administration
cut off parts of Srinagar from each other with
rolls and rolls of concertina wire, provoking
many to say, “Yes, Delhi is right when they say
Kashmir is India’s integral part. It’s the territory
they are bothered about; its people be damned.’’
And it was in the midst of this blackout that
Srinagar and Delhi offered its peace formula to
Jammu. And it was at this time — when the
sullen silence of the overprotected street was
mistaken for peace — that Governor NN
Vohra decided to reach out to the Hurriyat
leadership it had imprisoned in one of its own
picnic huts not far from the Raj Bhawan. The
governor’s emissaries got the response they
ought to have expected — we are not interested
in the land problem. Talk to us about the
Kashmir dispute, is what both SAS Geelani
and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said.
Talk to us — it’s in those words that the key
to the future lies if New Delhi really wants to
understand Kashmir. The Hurriyat Conference
split and Geelani, the hardcore separatist leader,
broke away. But the faction led by the Mirwaiz
risked not just the ire of Pakistan but of the gunwielding
militants when it agreed to be part of
Manmohan Singh’s dialogue in 2004. But after a
few rounds — the last one was in early 2007 —
the dialogue went into cold storage. Why? The
Mirwaiz provides the answer, “The Centre
thought the Kashmiris are tired of violence.
Tulip gardens were doing brisk business and
Delhi painted a rosy picture in its own head.”
HE IS not off the mark. Delhi has in the
last two decades looked at Kashmir
in only two ways — militarily and
economically. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq spoke to
TEHELKA a day after he was released alongwith
Geelani — again because Srinagar didn’t want
an ailing Geelani in their custody and because
the month of Ramzan began on September 2 —
and reiterated that a dialogue aimed at a political
settlement was the only way forward. “The
peaceful marches have frightened Delhi. They
only know how to address violence through violence
but you can’t call people terrorists.” He
has drawn power and significance from the
words of John F Kennedy: “When you make a
peaceful revolution impossible, you are making
a violent revolution inevitable.”
The Hurriyat is now drafting the final contours
of how to continue the peaceful revolution.
The plan — of holding silent sit-ins in
different districts on different days will once
again have New Delhi on edge. Will they clamp
down for the nth time? Will the concertina wire
be rolled out again? Or will they push through
the elections — due in two months?
The mainstream parties in the Valley led by
Omar Abullah and Mehbooba Mufti are not
confident of facing the electorate, which is now
in the ‘azadi’ mode. Omar was candid enough to
confess that he has never addressed a crowd
even a quarter the size of what the Hurriyat is
able to draw. Representatives of Mehbooba’s PDP
are being attacked or plain shunned, and neither
party’s cadre is confident of canvassing in an
election where they are bound to be stoned.
So, what are the choices before Delhi? To still
push ahead with an election where the Hurriyat’s
boycott call will have more takers than it has
ever had or bring the dialogue process out of the
deep freeze? It should go for the latter if it really
wants to understand Kashmir. •