Arrest of Hurriyat leaders signals a significant shift in Delhi’s policy in Kashmir
Images of Kashmiri separatists walking the corridors of the Prime Minister’s office during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s tenure have been replaced with visuals of Hurriyat Conference leaders being arrested and taken into custody by a central agency.
The arrest of seven separatists – including hardliner Syed Ali Shah’s son-in-law and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s aide – signals a significant policy shift. For long, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has been imploring Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be like ‘Vajpayee’. In other words, she wants Modi to hold true to the promise of ‘insaniyat’ (humanity).
Instead, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has slapped charges of hawala transactions and more seriously, accused the separatists of using money sourced from Pakistan to fan the unrest that broke out after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani in July last year. The agency is also threatening to question the senior separatist leaders themselves, for scores of benami properties.
Apart from income tax notices that were sent to the Hurriyat leaders in 2002, this is the first time that a nodal agency is digging into insurgency-related charges. A statement issued by the NIA accused those arrested of “funding separatist and militancy activities in Jammu and Kashmir and causing disruption in Kashmir Valley by way of pelting stones on the security forces, burning schools, damaging public property and waging war against India.”
The law will, of course, take its course – as it must – and the National Investigations Agency will have to prove the case in court, but in the sullen and alienated Kashmir Valley, where perception counts as much as reality, the arrests are being interpreted in various ways.
It is well-known that the Hurriyat has been getting funds from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. What is equally well-known is the fact that India’s intelligence agencies have been generous with their slush funds and former RAW chief, AS Dulat, who authored a book, has even given details of how the separatists were paid. For decades, governments of all political hues have flirted with the separatists in the hope of using them as objective interlocutors but the Hurriyat leaders have been weighed in by their masters in Pakistan.
The script has clearly changed. The Modi government, which in its first year into power, called off foreign-secretary-level talks with Pakistan because its high commissioner had a meeting with the Hurriyat has now decided to pursue them under the law.
The arrests have come at a time when the Hurriyat leaders have not been in control of the Kashmiri street that exploded after Wani’s killing. The separatists – who kept issuing protest calendars in the hope of staying relevant -- will now, no doubt, use the arrests to play the victim card in a bid to enhance their appeal.
The NIA probe is also a signal that New Delhi intends to pursue its law and order approach. The crackdown on the Hurriyat is a sure sign that there is no political outreach in the works. This complicates the tenuous alliance between Mehbooba and the BJP and shrinks her room for manoeuvre particularly because she had kept a channel open with Geelani.
But it is clear – New Delhi is running Kashmir more than its state government is.