When George Orwell’s book 1984 landed in the bookstores on the fashionable Residency Road, nobody in Srinagar imagined how much eventful the year would be.
Two years after a million-strong mourners’ procession attended Sheikh Abdullah’s funeral and the Kashmiris installed Farooq Abdullah as Chief Minister — amid enthusiastic slogans of ‘this is our promise to the father that we will make our brother the king of the valley’— nobody paid attention to the People’s Conference founder Abdul Gani Lone’s call for a shutdown.
Not a single shop in Kashmir closed on February 11 when JKLF leader Maqbool Bhat was hanged to death and buried unceremoniously inside Tihar Jail. For many, the execution did mean nothing but a death sentence awarded on someone for killing a police official.
Owner of Abdullah News Agency, Mohammad Abdullah Raja, placed a huge order for India Today that carried a cover story on the assassination of the Indian diplomat in Birmingham, Ravindra Mhatre, whose death led to Indira Gandhi’s decision of hanging Mr. Bhat. It didn’t sell like hot cakes. Even its editorial comment ‘a martyr to a controversial cause’ went unnoticed.
Soon the year graduated into a sequence of events, Mr. Orwell would have loved to foretell. Operation Blue Star happened in June 1984. Farooq Abdullah was dethroned by Mrs. Gandhi on July 2. It led to months of curfew in Srinagar, winning Mr. Shah (the pro-Congress Ghulam Mohammad Shah who replaced Mr. Farooq Abdullah) the sobriquet of ‘Gulla Curfew.’ Finally, Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination occurred on October 31.
It took Mr. Lone two years to see the first shutdown on Mr. Bhat’s execution. Around the time Mr. Farooq Abdullah was knitting himself into a tie-up with Rajiv Gandhi and Mirwaiz Farooq, Governor Jagmohan was busy in dismissing government officials. Prof. Gani Bhat was one among his targets. Left unemployed, he played the stellar role in laying the foundation of Kashmir’s first pseudo-separatist alliance, the Muslim United Front (MUF). Thus, the first shutdown on the JKLF leader happened in February 1986.
Even after that, much of the Valley was indifferent to secessionism. Mr. Farooq Abdullah’s government was convinced to set free the detained Mahaz-e-Azadi activist Azam Inquillabi in 1987 but his organisation failed to find a single surety. He was finally released when the Mahaz chief Sofi Akbar died and the Chief Minister carried MUF’s MLA Syed Ali Shah all the way from Jammu to Sopore in his helicopter to attend the funeral.
Mr. Akbar was the one-odd Plebiscite Front leader who had publicly rejected the Indira-Abdullah Accord of 1975 and estranged from Sheikh Abdullah spearheaded a separatist movement that had no more than a dozen known faces in it. The rest is history.
Even before Mr. Farooq Abdullah’s resignation as Chief Minister, JKLF gunned down Neelkanth Ganjoo, the judge who pronounced the death sentence on Mr. Bhat. Without break, February 11 has been a holiday for the separatists’ calendar in Kashmir since 1990.
The day of Afzal Guru’s hanging came two days ahead of Mr. Bhat’s 29th anniversary. Neither the JKLF, nor the Hurriyat, needed to call for shutdown. The authorities did it for themselves. The Chief Minister was taken on board at 8 p.m. on Saturday. The Army was separately asked to be on high alert and swing into action for a valley-wide curfew.
It was in the dead of night that IGP Kashmir S.M. Sahai called up the field DIGs and SPs to put them on the job of strict enforcement of curfew. Hours later, the Chief Minister rushed from New Delhi to implement the curfew in Srinagar. Mirwaiz Umar and Mr. Geelani followed him from Delhi to enforce the shutdown. They failed to make their journey. But, Kashmir remains shut. For how many days? Nobody really knows.