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The Hurriyat Conference: Born to follow, not lead

Sajjad, along with his brother Bilal Lone, was part of the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat Conference till he fell out with the Mirwaiz in 2005. Rashid Ahmad reports.

india Updated: Apr 19, 2009 00:27 IST
Rashid Ahmad

It was not unexpected that the Mirwaiz-led All Parties Hurriyat Conference would reverse its stand on the elections and not call for boycott. After all, only a few months ago, the Hurriyat leaders had been humiliated when people ignored their boycott call, turning up in large numbers to cast their votes in the Assembly elections.

The other factor that narrowed the choice for the separatist amalgam was Sajjad Lone’s plunge into politics. But Lone, the chairman of the People’s Conference, and Mirwaiz differ a little when it comes to their philosophies.

Sajjad, along with his brother Bilal Gani Lone, was very much a part of the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat Conference. That is, till he fell out with the Mirwaiz over a personal issue in 2005. The story goes that Mirwaiz participated in the funeral prayers of the militant (Rafiq Ahmad Dar alias Ladri of Al Ummer Mujahideen) who was accused of killing Sajjad’s father, Abdul Gani Lone — the founder leader of the Hurriyat conglomerate. But Bilal, Sajjad’s elder brother continued his association with the Mirwaiz. Initial acrimony apart, both Sajjad and Bilal are now on cordial terms.

It is perhaps against this backdrop that the acting chairman of the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat faction, Molvi Abbas Ansari, defended Sajjad’s decision, comparing it to that of Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah’s — who contested elections after heading the Plebiscite Front.

But this is not the first time separatist leaders have been led by the situation. Last year, reacting to the economic blockade of Kashmir that was enforced by Jammu rioters during the Amarnath land row, Syed Ali Geelani called for a cross LOC march in August. Mirwaiz had then said that the march would be undertaken only after August 15. Meanwhile, the JKLF chief, Yasin Malik chose to go on a hunger strike.

While traders and fruit growers defied Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik and by going ahead with the march on August 11. Consequently, the separatist leaders were left with little choice but to fall in line. But the march was stopped at Chahal village near Uri after the police opened fire killing Shaikh Abdul Aziz, People’s League chief and three others.

The Hurriyat Conference, a combination of more than two-dozen groups, was formed in 1993. The agenda was to provide political leadership to the armed struggle launched by the Kashmiri youth in the late 80s.

Back then, Robin Raphael, an American diplomat was a frequent visitor to Kashmir. Before the formation of the Hurriyat Conference, she had extensive meetings with separatist leaders, who were heading individual outfits. A common impression, confirmed by separatist leaders privately, was that Raphael had motivated separatists to get together under one banner.

“The Hurriyat was formed to lead the movement from the front and keep initiative with itself”, says Tahir Mohiuddin, senior journalist and editor of the Urdu weekly Chattan. “But it failed bitterly,” adds Mohiuddin, “Not a single instance can be cited where Hurriyat leaders have played a lead role.” “The initiative,” he says, “ always remained either with militants or Pakistan or the common people. Hurriyat leaders had simply to follow these initiatives.”

After militants issued a diktat against casting votes, the Hurriyat leaders had to campaign against polling in the 1996 parliamentary and Assembly elections. The Hurriyat continued with this stand in later elections as well. However, with the dwindling influence of militants, the Hurriyat changed its position.

In the 2002 Assembly elections, the People’s Conference was accused of fielding proxy candidates, and Syed Ali Geelani sought the expulsion of both, Sajjad and Bilal from the amalgam. Mirwaiz, however, stood by the Lone brothers. And this led to division in the separatist conglomerate with Syed Ali Geelani forming a rival faction.

Altaf Hussain, BBC’s north India correspondent is of the view that “the mailing address of the separatist movement in Kashmir has been the Hurriyat. It has never led the movement. Nor has it ever had the potential to change the course of events.” Hussain adds that people have associated themselves with the platform because of its ideology. “Otherwise, none of the leaders has ever inspired the ordinary people,” he adds.

Ubair Shah, a business professional, agrees. “People don’t take them (the separatist leaders) seriously. They held several rounds of talks with New Delhi. And it made little difference. If tomorrow they decide to take part in elections, it would be just another day for them.”