Guns & ‘Azadi’!

The Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani has taken everyone by surprise yet once again- this time, by proclaiming that “Guns can be a permanent solution for J&K,” he has unambiguously endorsed violence as an important decision making tool in the Kashmir struggle. While one can well understand the venerable patriarch’s anguish caused by lack of progress on resolution of the Kashmir issue, few would have imagined that the same very person who had only a few months ago said, “We, (the) Hurriyat Conference, favour peaceful struggle and we will continue to fight peacefully,” should now be seeking support of the gun. Though he has since issued clarifications on this comment, the fact remains that since the Hurriyat (G) chairman hasn’t actually retracted his statement but merely made it conditional, his views on use of violence as “one of the options for permanent solution of the Kashmir issue besides other political means ,” still holds good!

Drawing a parallel with the Indian independence movement and invoking the names of Bhagat Singh and Subash Chandra Bose, the Hurriyat (G) chairman has justified the use of violence to achieve ‘azadi’ as an adjunct to the peaceful movement. However, while Geelani Sahib may have got his basic facts right, he has unfortunately overlooked a very important issue- that though there was a component of ‘armed struggle’ in India’s independence movement, the main movement for independence under the leadership of Gandhi remained completely peaceful in character and had no truck with those espousing violence. 

As far as Bhagat Singh is concerned, Gandhi’s perfunctory effort to save him from the gallows remains an issue of controversy. Infact, writing in ‘Young India’ after the execution of Bhagat Singh and his associates, Gandhi stated, “…but we should not imitate their act. In our land of millions of destitute and crippled people, if we take to the practice of seeking justice through murder, there will be a terrifying situation. Our poor people will become victims of our atrocities.  By making a dharma (religion) of violence, we shall be reaping the fruit of our own actions. Hence, though we praise the courage of these brave men, we should never countenance their activities. Our dharma is to swallow our anger, abide by the discipline of non-violence and carry out our duty.” What Gandhi in 1931holds true even today and who knows better than the people of Kashmir who have been bearing the brunt of violence for over two decades. Since the revered Hurriyat (G) chairman has decided to take inspiration from the Indian independence struggle, he may like to ponder over this incisive observation of Gandhi and reconsider his newly found ‘faith’ in the gun!  

 The unbridgeable chasm between Gandhi’s peaceful ideology and the philosophy of violence espoused by Subash Chandra Bose is also well documented. As early as 1939, Gandhi in a letter to Bose, had curtly informed him that, “The view you express (use of violence) seem to be so diametrically opposed to those of the others and my own that I do not see any possibility of bridging them. I think that such school of thought should be able to put forth its views before the country without any mixture. And if this is honestly done, I do not see why there should be any bitterness engaging in civil war.” Thus, it is evident that even though there was an element of violence in India’s independence movement, the peaceful struggle steered clear from forging any alliance or association with those indulging in acts of violence and it was Gandhi’s consummate commitment to completely peaceful means of protest that made the Indian independence movement all the more powerful. 

Though Geelani Sahib holds that in India’s struggle for independence, the “Gun was also a factor which incremented and supplemented India’s freedom movement,” many scholars would disagree with his opinion. Remarkably detailed and accurate accounts of India’s independence struggle, written by people with unquestionable credentials are available and a dispassionate study of the same will clearly reveal that at no stage did the British ever feel so threatened by violence that it became an issue which in anyway influenced their decision to ‘quit India’. Overrating the contribution made by ‘freedom fighters’ is not peculiar to India and this has been a universal phenomenon since time immemorial, with every country promoting nationalism by propagating the belief that the ‘price of liberty’ is the ‘blood of martyrs. Therefore, to expect that it would ultimately be the gun that would tilt the table in our favour and give us a “permanent solution” to the Kashmir problem maybe being a bit too optimistic! 

Though the ongoing struggle for the ‘right to self determination’ in Kashmir is basically a peaceful movement, our leaders have over the years unfortunately allowed it to get marred by overlooking incidents of mob violence in the form of stone pelting. While the Hurriyat (G) chairman’s assertion that “Most often you will see that stone pelting is a reaction to use of brute force by police and others paramilitary forces,” is understandable, if Geelani Sahib desires to follow Gandhi’s model of ‘peaceful struggle’, then he may have to reconsider his justification of the protesters right to retaliate. With stone-pelting becoming a regular practice during protests, it will not be an easy to persuade the people to discontinue the same, but with the respect and influence SAS Geelani wields, it is certainly not impossible! 

Gandhi never approved of violence and he even called-off his own ‘non-cooperation’ movement in 1922, just because peaceful protesters in Chauri Chaura, after being brutalised as well as fired upon by the Police turned violent and torched a Police outpost burning alive those inside. Gandhi’s reasoning for terminating his ‘non-cooperation’ movement was that it was necessary “not (to) think of starting mass civil disobedience until we are sure of peace being retained in spite of mass civil disobedience being started and in spite of Government provocation.” It thus emerges that Gandhi not only despised those propagating the cult of violence, but also did not condone violence committed by his own people during peaceful demonstrations even when this was in retaliation to extreme provocation. 

It is very easy to motivate people to resort to violence, but having done so, it becomes well nigh impossible to get them to abjure the use of force. And once violence becomes an accepted norm, there is no way to stop it from spiraling out of control. The Hurriyat (G) chairman should realise that the era when armed rebellion against oppression had an air of romanticism and righteousness attached to it is long over and in the present day context, the use of violence even to undo a wrong or gain one’s legitimate rights has no takers. Recent revelations of former Pakistan Ambassador to US Husain Haqqani, that Washington would only consider intervening on the Kashmir issue once Islamabad stops supporting militant groups in Kashmir, illustrates how violence is making the international community wary of associating with the Kashmir issue. Therefore, it may be prudent for the Hurriyat leadership to carefully examine the pros and cons of the ‘gun option’ before taking any decision, since the path of violence is a one-way lane and once you enter it, there is just no turning back!  

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