Hurriyat and the Article 35A

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The Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani has warned New Delhi against tampering with the Muslim majority character of Jammu and Kashmir. In a statement he also cautioned people against what he called the “nefarious designs of New Delhi and its henchmen in the state”. At the same time, he also asked the state’s mainstream politicians to “join the pro-freedom ranks and play their role in resolving the long-pending Kashmir issue.”  Geelani also said that the centre was trying to create a “Palestine-like situation” in Kashmir. Hurriyat has already called for a hartal on Saturday against the apprehended repeal of the Article 35A by the Supreme Court. However, it has stayed short of doing more. And perhaps it can’t do so. Or can it? In recent years, Hurriyat’s response to the  successive crises have become subject of a contentious debate. More so, its recourse to hartals and the boycotts which have only hurt Kashmiris rather than bringing any pressure to bear on New Delhi to take firm steps to address the lingering conflict over the state.

The point  here is not that there is a readymade alternative strategy which can be adopted to bring New Delhi to terms. There isn’t. And there couldn’t be one. Strategies have to be devised and adapted through a constant process of rethinking and re-imagining. Over a period of time, old strategies lose their utility and thus need to be jettisoned. And the new strategies have to take their place. In addition, the leadership is above the strategies that are issue-specific. It is about giving the larger direction to the people. It is also about providing a narrative and about articulating the situation for the people and the world. And this is where Hurriyat has utterly failed. More so, in recent years. Its only response to the successive protests and the crises has been an extended hartal calendar.

But the question is whether  hartals do serve any purpose. And whether anyone outside the Valley even knows or is bothered about the hartal in Valley. Or whether it any longer spotlights the conflict in the state for the world. The answer to all these questions is in the negative. The truth is that hartals are now little more than a separatist political ritual often resorted to for their own sake.  They are now so devoid of the meaning and the objective as to not even express the collective grief following killings of the people or for that matter the collective concern following a situation like the one currently facing the state. Instead hartals have become exercises  in forgetfulness. People observe a day or two of hartal and emerge relieved of their distress  over the killings or over an extraordinary situation like the one confronting the state in the form of a fear of the repeal of Article 35A .  If Hurriyat has to retain its relevance, it has to step up and provide an enlightened discourse and a political direction to the  people of Kashmir. Failure to do so will render it redundant.

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