Some Hurriyat rethink, at last

In first such exercise, Hurriyat faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has started a social media debate on the “alternate forms of protest” in Kashmir.  Mirwaiz has sought opinion and constructive ideas on “alternative protest strategies, other than frequent hartal, from youth and other stakeholders”. The ideas and questions can be posted at #askHurriyat and @MirwaizKashmir on Twitter. This is a bold initiative, something separatist groups are not known to take even under pressing circumstances. What prompted this welcome attempt at a rethink? Apparently the persisting government curbs on the activities of the separatist leaders. It is now clear that PDP is in no mood to wage its “battle of ideas” which separatists hoped would give them some political space in which they can operate. In recent months, the state government has restrained Mirwaiz from leading protests, sometimes even barring him from attending Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque. Some days back, the chief priest was stopped from visiting HMT to offer condolences to the family of Gowhar Nazir Dar, 22,  killed during a recent protest there. This could possibly be regarded as a last straw for Mirwaiz, forcing him to rethink.

Ironically, the state government didn’t even allow Mirwaiz the opportunity to discuss the issue in a joint meeting of pro-freedom leaders, religious scholars, students, lawyers, journalists and other civil society members. In nightly raids, Government detained several separatist activists and placed Mirwaiz under house arrest.

Such curbs are now a part of the time-tested official strategy to deal with both factions of Hurriyat. The government firmly steps in to stop their programmes when these appear to carry even a slight hint of potential trouble. And the strategy has so far worked. The event passes off without a murmur and Valley relapses into the routine following a partially-observed shutdown or two.

The policy has been used to great effect on Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani. His activities have been brought to a stop over the past five years.. His every move is anticipated and controlled. This has reduced his politics to issuing statements and holding press conferences. The objective has been  to drastically limit his public contact which in turn reduces his political sphere of influence. And it has to a large extent.  Deprived of a direct contact with people, Geelani’s vaunted ability to galvanize mass protests has been severely dented. And considering that the strategy has paid off, there is no reason for the government to give up on these measures. 

The separatists so far have never attempted to devise an alternative protest strategy which can pre-empt government curbs. It is in this context that Mirwaiz’s move is significant. But are there really any means of peaceful protest that the government cannot foil or act against? It is difficult to imagine, considering that the security agencies have also effectively clamped down on the online dissent. But the real import of the Mirwaiz’s move is not in thinking of a new kind of protest but in rethinking the separatist approach to the state of affairs. In recent years separatist groups have been relegated to the margins of Kashmir’s political landscape. And they are largely themselves to blame for it. The separatist failure in the state has arisen from the fact that they couldn’t relocate themselves and their politics to the changed geo-political context. They have failed to recalibrate their approaches and methods, continuing unchanged since the outbreak of the armed resistance in 1989. As world and Pakistan turned its attention away and the militancy diminished, separatists were left to fend for themselves. And they didn’t know what to do, finding themselves unable to create a robust local politics to survive on their own. And when Mirwaiz now seeks public opinion about alternative strategies to protest, he has, in a sense, sought to rethink the Hurriyat policies which were only relevant in the nineties. As such the move is a welcome change from Hurriyat’s policy of following  the strategies which have long outlived their political usefulness.


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