Masarat Alam: Govt’s Hurriyat bogeyman

Last week,  the J&K High Court quashed the 34th Public Safety Act of  the  major separatist leader and the perceived architect of the 2010 unrest Masarat Alam Bhat and ordered his immediate release. Later, he was briefly released from jail but promptly re-arrested again. According to the new order, Alam has been accused of making the current unrest "successful" when actually he was in custody of the state authorities. The order was passed on the basis of Alam’s meeting on August 11  with four persons who visited him at District Jail, Baramulla. A case was registered against Alam at police station Baramulla on August 30.

The ruling PDP-BJP coalition is loathe to let him off after the debilitating political fallout of his release in March 2015. Besides, the government doesn’t want him on the loose  just at the time when the Valley is on the rebound from the bruising five month long unrest. Alam has so far spent 17 years in prison and except for a fortnight’s release in 2015, he has been undergoing continuous imprisonment since last six years.  The government has resorted to successive use of PSA to keep him behind bars. More so after 2010 strife, when he was widely perceived to be organizing the  protests. Overall, he has been charged in 49 cases. 

He is also credited to have invented the weekly protest calendar containing the elaborate schedule for hartals and protests, which Hurriyat dusted off and put to use again this summer.  Of course, now championed also by moderate separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yaseen Malik.

However, while Alam is deemed to be a hardliner like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of Hurriyat G, of which his party Muslim League is an important constituent, much of his ‘terror persona’ is myth and a media creation. Until his role in 2010 unrest, Alam was not much known as a pro-freedom leader. But he rose to fame through the five month long 2010 unrest which he is believed to have organized by creating  well-knit networks of the youth and issuing weeklong hartal calendars. However, Alam was arrested midway through the strife, a development which did little to quell the protests but made him the most popular separatist at the time.

Ever since Alam has grown in stature as a pro-freedom leader, threatening also to upstage the established Hurriyat leaders. But while his alleged hardline has been a point of concern with the government,  Alam’s politics carries a dash of rationalism too. For instance, he is strictly against any truck of Kashmiri separatist struggle with the conservative Islamist movements in other parts of the world, including Pakistan.

But the state government is unlikely to release him, preferring rather to stave off an avoidable controversy and any attendant issue with his release. Though going by its putative ‘middle-ground politics’ PDP will have no objection to the release, the BJP is dead against any such move, fearing its fallout on its image at the national level, more so with elections looming in UP and Punjab.  Alam has become an unlikely bogeyman. Government is projecting on to him a reality and a sentiment that exists even independent of the leaders, as the recent unrest should once again have us believe.

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