Opinion

Talking Heads

The PM’s meeting with Kashmiri politicians is another shot fired at a battered Hurriyat

Talking Heads
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On June 26, two days after PM Narendra Modi met politicians from Jammu and Kashmir in New Delhi, the Mutahida Majlis-e-­Ulema led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq issued a statement about the spike in suicides in the Valley and made no mention of the meeting. “Due to the prevailing unfavourable conditions in Kashmir, not only are a large number of young people affected mentally, but children, the elderly and women are also suffering from nervous breakdown and mental stress,” the statement reads. The Awami Action Committee, also led by Mirwaiz, issued a statement comprising only condolence messages. The absence of any reference to talks with the PM indicates the total marginalisation of separatist leaders who have been kept out of circulation since August 2019.

In January 2004, Mirwaiz had led a Hurriyat delegation in a meeting with then deputy PM L.K. Advani in which the two sides agreed to find an “honourable and durable solution” through dialogue, hoping that all forms of violence at all levels would end. Advani described it as a good beginning and thanked then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee for creating suitable conditions by offering a hand of friendship to Pakistan. After the NDA was voted out of power, the same delegation met PM Dr Manmohan Singh twice—in 2005 and 2006.

New Delhi’s last effort to reach out to the Hurriyat came in September 2016, during the peak of protests triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen ­militant Burhan Wani. When Sitaram Yechury, D. Raja and Sharad Yadav, part of a 28-member delegation of ­parliamentarians visiting Kashmir, knocked on the doors of Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, he didn’t allow the doors to be opened. Almost five years later, with Yasin Malik of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front in jail since three years, Mirwaiz under prolonged house arrest and Geelani struggling with age-related ailments, even the ­custodial death of senior Hurriyat leader Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai on May 5 failed to trigger ­significant protests in the Valley. Only 20 people were ­allowed to participate in the funeral of Sehrai, who had been ­arrested under the Public Safety Act last July, two months after his ­youngest son, Junaid Ashraf Khan, was killed in a gunfight with ­government forces. Police arrested his other two sons under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for “raising ­anti-national slogans” during their ­father’s funeral.

The almost total silencing of the ‘pro-Pakistan’ and ‘pro-Independence’ leadership comes in tandem with the positioning of mainstream politicians as the people the Centre talks to. “The politics of dialogue now stands ­internalised as a Centre-state matter just like Delhi-Maharashtra or ­Delhi-Bengal, for instance,” says Jammu-based political analyst Zafar Choudhary. “In fact, the hounding of mainstream politicians since June 2018 was aimed at positioning them in the separatist political space.”

Geelani supporters point out that the Centre would prove him right by ­conceding nothing to the politicians it is talking to. Geelani has long held that ­dialogue is futile so long as the government refuses to de-militarise the Valley and recognise the problem as a political dispute that needs a political resolution. However, People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration spokesman Yousuf Tarigami of the CPI(M) says it would have been imprudent to turn down the PM’s invitation. “At least the government listened to us. What would have been the government’s reaction had we ­refused to talk?” he asks. Former CM Omar Abdullah says, “These are the very people who described us as irrelevant. This is still a beginning.”

Omar’s father and National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah had spoken his heart out two days after his return from Delhi. “India’s first PM promised plebiscite and went back on it,” he said at his ­residence. “(Then PM) Narasimha Rao promised us autonomy, saying the sky is the limit, but not independence. We said we are asking for autonomy, not independence. He promised us on the floor of the House. Where is it? Frankly, there is a level of mistrust that has to be removed.”

By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar

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