New Delhi’s handling of Kashmir has been emblematic ever since Jawaharlal Nehru took the issue to the United Nations (UN) over 60 years ago in 1948. Some call Delhi’s amnesia on the matter callousness, others complacency. But forget about the clichéd UN resolutions. In recent times, every Indian Prime Minister, from P.V. Narasimha Rao to Manmohan Singh, has conveniently forgotten the promises made to the Kashmiris.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee and, now, Singh have sought to temper things over with so-called ‘economic packages’. Neither of them has been consistent in capacity-building or turning the strife-torn state’s constituency of development into a real stake for residents.
The euphoria generated by the success of the 2008 assembly elections was so dazzling that everybody, including Singh, shut his eyes to the performance parameters of the National Conference (NC)-led coalition government and kept invariably referring to Omar Abdullah’s tender age for over a year.
In Srinagar, when a gentle knock fails, stones work to break a slumber. Those hurling one don’t care about the rebound. The minds of many of those who’ve grown up in the last 25 years of turmoil have been growing harder. The reactions of a vociferous section of youngsters — from the elite to the dropouts — have been anarchic. Quite often they have humbled even the most prominent icons of the separatist brand of politics such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Salahuddin.
Separation from India is their slogan. They don’t form the only composition of the crowds taking to the streets these days. Thousands in the Budgam procession last Monday were devout voters of the NC leader and minister Aga Ruhullah. On such occasions, they oblige Aga’s uncle and senior Hurriyat leader Aga Syed Hassan. But on the day of the elections, they all rally behind the young mainstream politician, Ruhullah. And yet, police officials blamed Geelani’s Hurriyat and Massarat Alam’s Muslim League for the mob violence. On September 13, the second-worst day of the recent violence, eyewitnesses insist, followers of a minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, as well as those from the NC and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) outnumbered the followers of the Hurriyat leaders.
Like in the Amarnath land row of 2008, constituents have, in quick succession, joined Geelani’s ‘Quit Jammu & Kashmir Movement’. Interestingly, Geelani’s newly-coined slogan of ‘Go India Go Back’ can be heard loudest in his moderate separatist rival Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s bastion in downtown Srinagar. Visibly insecure, Umar Farooq found it opportune to capitalise on his Eid congregation last Saturday to reclaim space — though at the cost of his credibility to keep his marches peaceful.
Under the shadows of an imposing symbolism, interpretations of ‘azadi’ have been varying from one constituent to another. Most of the mainstream political activists — and even the counter-insurgent Ikhwanis — are today at the forefront of the agitation at certain places to ensure their existence in ‘Independent Kashmir’. Even Omar Abdullah’s partyman in Tangmarg, Ali Mohammad Sofi asserted his ‘pro-azadi credentials’ with the burning of a missionary school.
Those mobilised by the PDP leadership are widely believed to be the votaries of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba. Nearly 20 per cent of the ‘azadi’ crowds are likely to disappear with Omar’s replacement or dismissal.
Even in this cacophony of ‘azadi’ and demand for a forgotten plebiscite, it is hard to forget the dramatic turnaround when Omar Abdullah came to power. Ad hocism, cheap glorification of dynastic rule and a complacency towards the deeply-planted sentiment of separation have frittered away all the hopes that came with October 2008.
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz is a Srinagar-based journalist and political commentator
The views expressed by the author are personal