Hurriyat Conference in Doldrums

This united political front of separatists seeking azadi is a story of more fissures than feats.

If they were into football, they would be a laughing stock. Just imagine, two teams storming the turf with each player kicking a separate ball pleading that this unnatural protocol would help them kill two birds with one stone: Avoid infighting and strike more goals.

But then the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a conglomerate of separatist parties, formed on March 9, 1993 as a “united political front for right to self-determination of Kashmiris”, is a story of more fissures than feats.

Internal cracks within the conglomerate culminated in its formal split on September 7, 2003. While moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Dr Omar Farooq bagged Hurriyat (M), hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani formed Hurriyat (G). In 2014, Shabir Shah and Nayeem Khan formed the Hurriyat (JK). Muhammad Yasin Malik, however, remained an exception by never claiming Hurriyat-Y. Instead he remained dedicated to his JKLF.

If more than two makes crowd, Hurriyat, as of now, has three avatars: M, G and JK. Much like the absence of crowd-pulling achievements, the amalgamation over the years has graduated into a lacklusture organisation in Kashmir’s political spectrum. Hurriyat’s sun is setting in its prime, and the more efforts they make for unity, the more they divide.

Here are the fundamental seven:

1. United only in photo ops

On April 18, 2015, for the first time since the 2008 Amarnath land row, Hurriyat leaders shared the stage at a rally in Srinagar to show solidarity with the family of a teenager killed in police firing. According to a report in the Indian Express, during the joint rally, the leaders spoke of a “united stand” on the Kashmir issue. And proceeded to protest, a little too vehemently, that they were united.

“The pro-freedom people have a similar stand on the Indian occupation and elections,” Geelani said, adding, “We may be separate but we have a unity of thought.” Mirwaiz, on the other hand, as per the report, said: “People of Kashmir are united in pursuing their goal and mission of martyrs.”

2. Reunion ends with breaking bread

Two months later, on July 11, Geelani hosted an Iftar party at his Hyderpora residence in which the estranged leaders, including Mirwaiz, broke their fast together. To display unity, they decided that, on July 13, all the leaders would march to a shrine in old Srinagar to observe Martyr’s Day — an event in Kashmir’s history that marks the beginning of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s populist politics.

Though the new-found unity of separatists surprised many, it didn’t last beyond 72 hours. The first accused for foiling the bromance was the police as they prevented separatists from carrying out the scheduled march. The next to be held guilty, however, were the separatists themselves.

3. Divided on Pakistan

On July 14, Geelani rejected the Eid Milan invite from Pakistan High Commission pleading that the Kashmir issue was “ignored” at prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Russia on July 10.

A week later, on July 21, Mirwaiz once again formally broke ranks with Geelani by attending the Eid Milan hosted by Pakistan envoy Abdul Basit.

4. Hartal without the hardliner

Though Geelani’s name is considered synonymous with hartal politics, this one missed him. On 25th July, Kashmir witnessed its first complete shutdown of the year, as previous ones reportedly drew partial or little response.

On a strike call by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries and other business forums against the communal flare up in Rajouri district of the Jammu region, Kashmir came to daylong halt.

If a hartal is the yardstick for leadership ratings, then Kashmir Inc emerged taller than Geelani. A report published in Jammu-based dailyEarly Times said employees in Kashmir embarrassed the state government by observing a strike on a working day.

But why did Geelani fail in taking the traditional lead on his favourite topic remains a mystery. Presumably, he refrained from supporting the call because he believes he alone can take the lead.

5. NC hijacks Hurriyat ritual

Since February 9, 2013, when Muhammad Afzal Guru, the Parliament attack convict was secretly hanged and buried in Tihar Jail, the demand for his mortal remains has been added to the Hurriyat’s list of ritualistic statements.

Whenever there is any news on an execution, Hurriyat is reminded of this man who was denied even the right to meet his family before being sent to gallows. But this time when Yakub Memon was hanged, Hurriyat missed the bus as National Conference took the driver’s seat.

According to August 1 report published in Rising Kashmir, a day after Yakub Memon was hanged and his body handed over to his family, opposition National Conference demanded the return of the mortal remains of Afzal Guru, saying “such a double standard highlighted the perception of discrimination among the people.”

6. Headhunting

After years of infighting, the Hurriyat seems to have begun headhunting. A June 8, 2015 PTI report says: “In yet another blow to Hurriyat M, an influential Shia organisation led by Aga Syed Hassan Budgami quit the separatist amalgam citing ‘lack of strategy’ and ‘mistakes’ committed by it.”

Though Agha Budgami didn’t formally join Geelani, this year, at least two lesser-known separatist parties abandoned the Mirwaiz to strengthen Hurriyat (G). The Hurriyat, however, continues to be in news. Earlier this year, news reports hinted that Pakistan was making Geelani stronger. But his categorical “No” to the Eid Milan invite blessed Mirwaiz with the chance to improve relations.

7. Muted by new militancy

For over two decades, Hurriyat was seen as an influential medium to strategically control or persuade militants from time to time. However, this year, such hopes suffered a major setback, leaving the Hurriyat shockingly mute.

On May 31, following a series of attacks on the mobile communication network and the death of six civilians in Kashmir, Geelani called a meeting that denounced the militant outfit “Lashkar-e-Islam” for the attacks. The Agha who shed Hurriyat (M) was party to the meeting.

But a day after Geelani labelled the organisation a “creation of Indian secret agencies”, a grenade was lobbed at a mobile tower in Srinagar leaving the hardliner silent. A report published in The Hindu said the attacks came exactly a day after Hizbul Mujahideen expelled its top commander Abdul Quyoom Najar for involvement in a similar attack six weeks ago, which claimed six lives. It was three deadly attacks in a day in the heart of Kashmir, but this time Geelani couldn’t afford to condemn them.  – Daily O


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