When ‘Azadi’ Died

With the people of Kashmir responding wholeheartedly to the shutdown call given by the Hurriyat on the 33rd martyrdom day of JKLF leader Maqbool Bhat it is evident that this great son of Kashmir hasn’t been forgotten. In Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) too massive rallies were held to remember the sacrifices Bhat made for the sake of the people of Kashmir and non- resident Kashmiris all over the world paid homage to this towering Kashmiri ideologue for having the courage to remain steadfast in his commitment to the ideology of ‘azadi’ and refusing to compromise on this issues despite being subjected to immense physical and mental tribulation.

However, now that the anniversary of Bhat’s execution is over and passions have somewhat subsided, it is time to reflect upon whether we have done real justice to Maqbool  Bhat by giving his concept of ‘azadi’ its rightful place in Kashmir’s ‘freedom struggle’. And this is where the situation becomes awkward because the ideology that is currently guiding the ‘azadi’ movement in Kashmir is a far cry from what Bhat had propagated all along. He was a straight forward man who believed in calling spade a spade and for him ‘azadi’ had no allegorical interpretations – it simply meant an ‘independent’ Kashmir!

Bhat’s courage of conviction on the ‘azadi’ issue was so strong that he had no hesitation in declaring that both India and Pakistan were ‘illegal occupants’ of Kashmir. Demanding a Kashmir free from Indian and Pakistani control wasn’t an easy thing to do as this made him the ‘enemy’ of both countries. So it was no big surprise that while New Delhi denounced him as a Pakistani ‘agent’, Islamabad branded him an Indian ‘collaborator’. Yet, no one can dispute the fact that though the ‘azadi’ Bhat stood for was not appreciated by New Delhi or Islamabad but remains the only way by which Kashmiris can be free in the true sense of the word.   

Due to his refusal to compromise on the Kashmir issue by taking sides, Bhat became a thorn in the flesh of both New Delhi and Islamabad. His refusal made him one of the only Kashmiri leader to be arrested, imprisoned, tortured and tried for ‘anti national’ activities by courts in both countries. Yet, even without the blessings and support of a patron nation or influential power center, Bhat was still successful in attracting sympathy and interest of the international community towards the Kashmir issue. The secret of Bhat’s success was that he put the people of Kashmir first and did not let the Kashmir issue get tainted any extraneous considerations that could give the struggle a partisan character.

 Unfortunately, the Hurriyat leaders who are presently leading the struggle in Kashmir, no longer interpret ‘azadi’ as Bhat visualised; for them, it simply implies IaK breaking away from India and acceding to Pakistan. The Hurriyat strongly believes that by doing this the Kashmiri peoples’ wish for freedom will automatically be fulfilled. This appears to be a case of ‘great expectations’ since the constitution of PaK gives Islamabad absolute control over the PaK legislature and imposes severe restrictions on freedom of association and expression upon its citizens. Thus there are genuine concerns amongst the people whether the ‘hybrid’ version of ‘azadi’ being championed by the Hurriyat would really measure up to the aspirations of Kashmiris. 

For Maqbool Bhat ‘azadi’ was at the core of the Kashmir issue and that’s why he considered it non-negotiable. Thus while the Hurriyat may eulogise and laud his ideology and commitment towards the Kashmir cause, but by ‘repackaging’ subservience to Pakistan as ‘azadi’, those presently steering the Kashmir struggle have sent out a clear signal that they actually consider Bhat’s basic ideology to be worthless. While the Hurriyat may be having good reasons for doing so, but by not making the public aware of the same, it has unnecessarily created an environment where the people could start doubting the separatist conglomerate’s sincerity!

For Maqbool Bhat ‘azadi’ was at the core of the Kashmir issue and that’s why he considered it non-negotiable. Thus while the Hurriyat may eulogise and laud his ideology and commitment towards the Kashmir cause, but by ‘repackaging’ subservience to Pakistan as ‘azadi’, those presently steering the Kashmir struggle have sent out a clear signal that they actually consider Bhat’s basic ideology to be worthless.
 

A common problem with mass movements is that they are long drawn out affairs and with the passage of time the public start showing signs of mental fatigue and disinclination. To avoid such movements from running out of steam, leaders often end up by resorting to ‘quick fix’ measures. Sometimes such interim strategies do appear to be accelerating the pace of a movement and this often compels leaders to make ideological realignments and compromises for expediency. However, while such measures may give great hopes but being mere illusions cannot achieve the desired aims. To ensure decisive outcome, a movement has to be based on strong fundamentals and taken forward without compromising its principles. 

Postscript: In his statement issued on this occasion, JKLF chairman Yasin Malik mentioned about how “Indians were thinking of eradicating every memory of Maqbool from the hearts and minds of Kashmiris.” While New Delhi’s refusal to hand over the mortal remains of Bhat to his family members vindicates Malik’s assertion, but by banning two books written by Kashmir’s tallest ideologue on this struggle, isn’t Islamabad too trying to do the same? So, what now needs to be seen is whether the Hurriyat can draw inspiration from Bhat’s ideology and give their concept of ‘azadi’ a fresh look. If they don’t, then I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that despite all the rhetoric on his martyrdom day, the ‘azadi’ that Maqbool Bhat stood for all his life unfortunately accompanied him to his grave.

 

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