State Government recently reopened cases against Yasin Malik, Syed Ali Geelani and Nayeem Khan filed during the 1987 Assembly election, when they were part of the fateful Muslim United Front. Malik was briefly jailed twice under the case before he was granted bail. Though a court also issued non-bailable warrants against Geelani and Khan, they have been temporarily let off. The former because of his ill-health and the later because of being away attending his father’s funeral. The resurrection of the cases has come as a surprise, considering the fact they are 29 year old and the government chose to invoke them despite the many cases filed against these leaders over the past 26 years.
Why 1987 cases? This is the question being asked by everyone. More so, after Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti mounted a passionate defence of Muslim United Front in her recent Assembly speech.
“The opposition space after NC, Congress alliance in 1987 fell vacant and Muslim United Front wanted to contest elections. They too were supposed to swear by Indian Constitution and Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir. We have had top leaders like Late Abdul Gani Lone and Syed Ali Geelani here,” Mehbooba said.
But more than the ‘why’ of booking separatist leaders under 1987 cases, the very invocation of the MUF has attracted a great deal of public attention. It has re-opened an old wound in the state as it was the alleged rigging of this election in favour of the National Conference that was the immediate spark for the militancy that broke out in 1989.
The development has also re-ignited the debate around 1987 polls as to whether letting the MUF win would have made a redeeming difference to the state and pre-empted the separatist armed resistance. Even Mehbooba in her speech said that the MUF should have been allowed to win as it would have helped mainstream the anti-India political opinion.
Would a fair 1987 election really have averted what happened next? The MUF had come as a swashbuckling political alternative to the dull NC-Congress alliance: a Jamaat-i-Islami led amalgam of several political outfits, which offered religion as an ultimate salvation for the Valley’s ills, heightening its appeal further with a subtle invocation of the separatist ideology. The grouping generated enough public groundswell to unhinge the old order but in the end situation went back to square one.
The rigged outcome brought NC-Congress back, breeding a pent-up sense of frustration. MUF for all practical purposes broke apart. Its leaders went their separate ways. And unknown to them all, the situation followed its own dangerous course leading to the turmoil of late 1989 which in its myriad forms continues until today. The rigging grievously setback the process of the growth of a genuine democratic culture in the state.
While it is debatable what MUF in power would have done, its charismatic leaders comprising Geelani, Qazi Nisar, Abdul Gani Lone seemed to have somehow been able to connect to some deeper grassroots urge and articulated it. Among them were potential political parties who though religious in their orientation could have enriched the political discourse of the state and who knows, may have down the years achieved a Valley wide profile. The outbreak of militancy in 1989 saw these forces fritter away and subsequently join the ranks of the separatist leadership. MUF is now a little momentous piece of Valley's history that lasted for one brief year. If anything, the dusting off of the MUF cases reminds us about, it is that one sure way to peace is never to mess with the political preferences of the people.