Is the Hurriyat divorcing democracy and freedom?: Gowhar Geelani
Guest post by GOWHAR GEELANI
By any stretch of imagination, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] has ceased to be an amalgam of ‘all parties’. It seems that this conglomerate of several pro-freedom political, social and religious parties is actually being run by a chosen few in a dictatorial manner. It is no secret now that the fissures in the Hurriyat ‘M’, the one led by the popular head-priest based in Srinagar, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, run neck deep.
The APHC was formed on 10 March 1993 to find a political solution to Kashmir dispute after a large-scale armed rebellion since 1989 had successfully highlighted the need for a resolution to the long-standing dispute. Essentially, this conglomerate was formed with the clear aim of achieving the “right to self-determination” for Kashmiris in accordance with the United Nations’ Security Council Resolutions vis-à-vis Kashmir.
But all is not well with the Hurriyat (M). One of its prominent leaders, Professor Abdul Gani Bhat has openly challenged group’s constitution by declaring that the UN resolutions on Kashmir have become “irrelevant”.
Since its inception, the APHC has seen many ups and downs. The biggest setback for the group demanding freedom for the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir came when it split after the 2002 assembly elections. The widely admired pro-resistance leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was quick to snap ties. He accused its leaders of violating the amalgam’s constitution by remaining silent over the participation by proxies in the elections by some of Hurriyat’s constituents. After serious disagreements, the firebrand leader Syed Ali Geelani parted ways with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other Hurriyat leaders. Mr. Geelani then formed his own Hurriyat Conference, which is now known as APHC (G). From there on, Kashmir got two factions of Hurriyat Conference, one led by Syed Ali Geelani [G] and the other by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq [M].
No more drab lectures, Professor
The recent controversy began when the maverick Professor Bhat openly defied the Hurriyat constitution by declaring that the United Nations’ Security Council resolutions on Kashmir have become “impracticable” and that the Hurriyat needs to explore options of forging an alliance with pro-India mainstream politicians to give shape to some a “common minimum programme”. Another important leader, the chairman of the alliance, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who makes people in Kashmir believe that UN resolutions form the bedrock of the Hurriyat constitution and the Kashmir dispute – maintains a strange silence on the ‘bombshell’ dropped by Bhat. And then, those leaders who decide to talk about it at a proper platform aren’t heard in a civilized manner.
The exchange of blows at a recent seminar organised by the Hurriyat Conference (M) titled ‘Blood of Martyrs: Our Role’ is a clear indicator of how deep the fissures in the camp led by Mirwaiz Umar are. The Hurriyat seminar held at the party headquarters in Rajbagh in Srinagar on 20 May 2012, as per press reports, ran into rough weather when another Hurriyat leader, Nayeem Khan, explicitly challenged the silence of the Mirwaiz over the controversial comments made by Bhat in a public rally recently held in his native hamlet; Botengo, Sopore.
There was a time when Bhat, a former chairman of the APHC had remarked in a passionate speech at a mosque in Srinagar, during the early 1990s, that “the dawn of freedom has arrived” and that “only the formal announcement was to be made”. “….Azaadi ka sooraj tulu ho chuka hai. Ab sirf ee’laan karna baqi hai… [the sun of freedom has risen and now only an announcement is to be made],” he had said.
As a child, I had listened to this speech of his with keen interest. Two decades later, the volte face by the same leader at a public rally in his native village is intriguing. Contrary to expectations, this controversial statement made by the ‘learned’ Hurriyat leader did not shock people in Kashmir. It invited little reaction from a handful of columnists and lukewarm responses from lesser known Hurriyat leaders.
This is perhaps because Kashmiris are used to such theatrics. Political leaders from both the so-called mainstream [pro-India] and pro-resistance camps alike have said many things in Kashmir, contradicted themselves time and again only to go back on the promises and pledges made from time to time.
This latest controversial statement from Professor Bhat did not create ripples. It failed to shake the earth. It did not make any walls collapse. This ‘great’ leader remained in the news for a couple of days. And that was that. Quite possible that that was what the individualistic professor wanted. After all, some leaders thrive and survive on controversies and controversial statements.
People know and understand it is not the world of Plato who would describe “philosopher kings” as “those who love the sight of truth”. People are aware that those ruling them are not philosophers. They know that people at the helm of affairs and those espousing the cause of freedom are only ordinary politicians who have deliberately left the doors open for temptations of all kinds, and who at any given stage could easily change colours like a chameleon.
Let us not debate the relevance of the UN resolutions with regards to Kashmir issue here. The debate is that those leaders who until yesterday believed that those resolutions form the bedrock of Kashmir issue and solid base for their case against both India and Pakistan are themselves not sure about that today.
The seminar on 20 May at the Hurriyat headquarters only reflects where the Hurriyat Conference is headed. The scenes turned ugly at the Hurriyat office when Mirwaiz supporters began chanting slogans in support of their leader and reportedly tried to physically assault and push Hurriyat leader Nayeem Khan. Soon, the followers of Nayeem Khan and Shabir Shah confronted Mirwaiz fans, which finally resulted in the exchange of blows. For a brief moment, the Hurriyat headquarters at Rajbagh had turned into a wrestling ring.
“I have every right to ask my chairman to take action against a person who has violated and challenged the Hurriyat constitution,” the chief of the National Front [JKNF], Nayeem Khan was quoted by the local press as having said. If Shabir Shah can be expelled from the Hurriyat for meeting the US ambassador in 1993, and Moulana Abbas Ansari ousted for meeting the interlocutors appointed by the Indian Home Ministry, why can’t Prof. AG Bhat be shown the door for his controversial remarks and violation of the group’s constitution?” Mr. Khan has questioned.
Other leaders of the group like Shabir Ahmed Shah, chief of the Democratic Freedom Party [JKDFP], and Zafar Akbar Bhat, head of the Salvation Movement [JKSM], too have openly voiced their concern over the stillness of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on this issue. The JKDFP, JKNF and JKSM are all the constituents of the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
“We will not accept double standards. Prof. Bhat has spoken against the aspirations of Kashmiri people, and against the Hurriyat constitution. By creating the fuss they are trying to weaken the freedom movement,” Shabir Shah has said.
Interestingly, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Bilal Gani Lone and Prof. Bhat could not attend their own seminar as they were reportedly placed under house arrest. It may well be the case that this time the trio enjoyed the restrictions clamped upon them by the state authorities because they might have had an inkling about what was coming!
Absence of accountability
The difference of opinion in any conglomerate, amalgam, group or even a party is understandable. Difference of opinion is the foundation of democracy. It demands the tolerance to respect a view you don’t agree with. But somewhere, a line has to be drawn. When someone challenges the very foundation of an alliance and overtly shifts the goal-post, he or she should either be asked to withdraw the statement and apologise to the people whom the Hurriyat claims to represent – or be shown the door. When the goal remains the same, the means to achieve it could be different. But when the goal changes, there should be no place in the group for the violators.
It seems that the Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar does not have the fire in the belly to take strong decisions after consultations with his general and executive councils. It is also not outside the realm of possibilities that the one who has violated the constitution this time around knows of some skeletons in some cupboards, and therefore continues to enjoy the status of a holy cow within the APHC.
Another leader went on record to say that he is not accountable and answerable to anyone. When such are our leaders, a nation can only wander in the wonderland of politics. The incompetence of our leaders is one of our many tragedies. They lack vision and foresight. Many of them have prospered only by reacting to situations. They have never been pro-active in their approach. They issue statements only when someone is killed, arrested or raped. And in times of deceptive peace, the presence of 700,000 troops does not bother their conscience.
There is no harm in quitting. Those who are tired should quit and be open about it.
However, leaders are not the only people who should be blamed for the mess Kashmiris find themselves in. Columnists – whose writings would once inspire youngsters in Kashmir to fall in love with the ‘idea of freedom’ and detest the idea of being in chains – now talk of ‘pragmatism’ and ‘realism’. Either they have graduated to a higher level of maturity or the ‘elephant of corruption’ grown faster, higher, stronger.
In her essay, Shall We Leave It to the Experts, Arundhati Roy writes:
“Cynics say that real life is a choice between the failed revolution and the shabby deal. I don’t know… may be they’re right. But even they should know that there’s no limit to just how shabby that shabby deal can be. What we need to search for and find, what we need to hone and perfect into a magnificent, shining thing, is a new kind of politics. Not the politics of governance, but the politics of resistance. The politics of opposition. The politics of forcing accountability… In the present circumstances, I’d say the only thing worth globalising is dissent…”
Some have already suggested that some Hurriyat leaders are preparing the ground for their participation in the 2014 assembly elections. That is perhaps why such statements are being made to check the pulse of the people. At this stage Kashmiris aren’t sure how shabby that shabby deal is. But what they are sure about is to remind the learned professor that his students have grown older now, they read a lot, travel, experience, know, and understand. They can see the dynamics of politics a lot better than before and do not rely on drab classroom lectures anymore. Most importantly, they are aware of the designs and compulsions of the armchair experts, commissioned writers and assignment editors. They also know and understand the distinction between fake and real leaders.
Some leaders have been candid enough in their admission that the top brass of Hurriyat Conference seldom bothers to seek opinion from the general council. This is also indicative of the fact that this amalgam is not run in a democratic manner. The APHC [M] has divorced democracy within its own system, making it easier for it to bid adieu to ‘Azadi’!