The ‘Sins’ of Sarpanchs!

Elections in Kashmir are finally over and happy with the public for having ‘set an example’ by boycotting the polls thus giving New Delhi a ‘befitting reply’, the separatists are euphoric and have warmly congratulated the people of Kashmir. The Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani however did make it clear that the people of Kupwara and Handwara who cast their votes by defying the poll boycott call had “not only harmed the sacred cause of the ‘nation’ but also betrayed the sacrifices of Kashmiris, especially those in north Kashmir.” He nevertheless displayed commendable magnanimity and forgave them all the same by announcing that “it is not an issue for us that few thousand people voted in this military operation and there is no need to react to this.” He also called for an end to infighting by stressing that “we should not force anybody to follow our policy or ideology.” However, in stark contrast to this benevolence exhibited by him just a couple of days earlier, the Hurriyat (G) chairman has now suddenly lashed-out at the sarpanchs, accusing them of committing the most despicable crime against the people of Kashmir and harming the struggle for the ‘right of self determination’ by playing the shameful role of “Police informers.” 

It is no secret that the Hurriyat (G) chairman was quite upset when disregarding his appeals; people went ahead and participated in the sarpanch elections. Therefore, while as the leading light of the ‘pro-independence’ struggle, Geelani sahib is well within his rights in calling for the en-masse resignation of sarpanchs, leveling unfounded allegations against them does not behoove his venerable personality. Nor does it suit his exalted position to make sweeping statements like, “Any person who supports the establishment works against the ongoing movement,” as it smacks of extreme authoritarianism and sounds more like a general threat to curb dissent. Moreover, even though the Hurriyat (G) chairman may be just airing his personal views without meaning any malice, he should realise that his fondness for making unsubstantiated allegations through casual public utterances are often taken very seriously by the public and this can have serious repercussions. The international community too views such statements as coercive diktats that undermine the democratic nature of the struggle in Kashmir and this is certainly not good for the ongoing movement.

Readers will recall that only recently, Geelani sahib had alleged that he had been approached by a Kashmiri pandit duo with a proposal “to talk with him (Narendra Modi) for taking his commitment on Kashmir issue.” While clarifying that he had outrightly rejected this suggestion, the Hurriyat (G) chairman made his disclosure appear all the more mysterious by refusing to name or identify the emissaries of Modi and set the cat among pigeons by claiming that a ‘pro-azadi’ organisation was “in league with BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.”  Since it was obvious that Geelani sahib was making a veiled reference to the Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farook, the Mirwaiz responded by reminding the people that “every now and then he (SAS Geelani) is coming out with statements which only create misgivings among the people. In the past following his statements many Hurriyat leaders were targeted… Whom does he want to see getting killed now? Against whom he wants to create misconception among the people?” Even if we reject the Hurriyat (M) chairman’s observation on the grounds that it is motivated, how does one explain Geelani sahib’s latest accusation calling sarpanchs “police Informers,” when he has failed to substantiate this claim?  

Even without the Hurriyat (G) chairman asking them to do so, the sarpanchs themselves are already seriously contemplating mass resignation since the State government has failed to provide them security as also not been able to book the ‘unidentified gunmen’ who killed sarpanchs in the run-up to the elections. So, why has this issue suddenly caught the fancy of Geelani sahib? Is it that he is attempting to ‘score a point’ by trying to portray the mass resignation of sarpanchs (which is solely due to their security concerns) as a message to the international community that the sarpanchs are resigning of their own accord since ‘members of the Panchayat are in support of the freedom movement’? While this may not be the case, but by his statement that, “we will welcome the mass resignation of the village council members. We want them to resign so that people could come to know that they are with the ongoing freedom struggle of Kashmir,” it does appear to be so. Even if this is the case, why has the Hurriyat (G) chairman while welcoming the mass resignation of sarpanchs, simultaneously also accused them of receiving “some kind of materialistic benefits” for keeping a vigil over ‘pro-freedom’ elements in their respective areas and acting as ‘informers’? Surely, the international community, which the Hurriyat (G) chairman wishes to impress by showing that the en masse resignation of sarpanchs has been inspired with their new found love for the ‘pro- freedom’ movement, will not fail to take note of Geelani sahib’s appeal-cum veiled threat and thus refuse to take this issue seriously.

While the separatists may be congratulating themselves on being able to expose India’s ‘farcical elections’ to the international community by a successful ‘voluntary’ boycott of the polls, the fact that this has to some extent been achieved through strong-arm tactics including ‘targeted killing of sarpanchs’ has not gone unnoticed. It is extremely unlikely that people would have come out in large numbers to vote had the separatists not given a poll boycott appeal and called for hartals on the day of polling. However, they did so and thus made it appear that the people of Kashmir were intimidated to prevent them from voting and thus, a battle which was already won has instead been lost due to the lack of faith that the separatist leadership has in its own people.  And this is the tragedy which afflicts the movement for the ‘right to self determination’, because despite having UN resolutions and public unity in our support, separatist leaders seem to have more faith in undemocratic means than the collective will of the people to steer the struggle for the ‘right to self determination’. 

Tailpiece: While the separatists may be gloating over their self acclaimed poll boycott ‘victory’, New Delhi too is rejoicing the successful conduct of elections, as despite the Hurriyat (G) chairman claiming that elections in Kashmir was a “military operation,” US President Barak Obama thinks otherwise. By stating that “India has set an example for the world in holding the largest democratic election in history, a vibrant demonstration of our shared values of diversity and freedom,” Obama has given New Delhi the ‘certification’ on “diversity and freedom,” which it desperately required. And since it is the views of Obama and not the separatists that influence the opinion of the international community, one needs to introspect whether the separatist strategy of ‘enforcing’ poll boycott, actually helped or harmed the Kashmir movement!

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