After eight years of separation, what brought the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front together?
Shortly after India and Pakistan came together, the separatist politicians of Jammu & Kashmir also came together.
On July 11, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a hard-line separatist leader, hosted an Iftar party at his residence in Srinagar, in which the estranged leaders from various parties broke the fast together. To display their unity, they decided that on Monday, all the leaders will march to a shrine in Srinagar and observe Martyr’s Day — an event in Kashmir’s history that marks the beginning of Sheikh Abdullah’s populist politics.
On July 13, 1931, the forces of the erstwhile Maharaja shot dead 22 Kashmiris who were protesting against the hanging of a rebel. The unity move has raised several questions in the State’s political and academic circles. Is the call for unity based on the recent killings carried out by an obscure militant outfit? Are the separatists feeling threatened by the pattern of these killings? Or is it the feeling that Kashmir issue has been set aside by India and Pakistan which has brought them together to ascertain their worth?
This is not the first time when Kashmiri separatists have united. In 2008, when people were agitating against the rampant killings of protesters who poured out into the streets condemning the government’s “illegal land transfer” to the Amarnath shrine authorities, the separatists felt the urgency to come together. But soon, they fell out over ideological differences over Kashmir’s resolution. They disagreed over authority, speeches and slogans.
New-found unity of Kashmiri separatists surprises many
During the 2008 agitation carried out together by Kashmiri separatists, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a hard-line separatist leader, gave a slogan — Hum Pakistani hai, Pakistan hamara hai (We are Pakistanis and Pakistan is ours) — which did not go down well with the moderate separatists.
To counter that, Yasin Malik, the leader of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, shouted: Is Paar Bhi Laingay Azadi, Us Paar Bhi Laingay Azadi (We will take freedom from Indian- as well as from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir), which unsettled Geelani since his personal choice is to merge Kashmir with Pakistan.
The final jolt to the separatists’ unity came when Geelani declared in public that he is the supreme leader of Kashmir’s separatist politics. The statement threw the leadership in disarray. It even angered Geelani’s own men.
Since the ideological differences continue to exist, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of Hurriyat’s moderate faction, described the latest chapter of camaraderie as “Unity Phase I”.
“Our differences have always been on modalities,” the Mirwaiz said. “This time, more or less, we have a consensus and a common minimum programme, which makes us feel we can be together and which could lead to bigger unity as well.”
In the recent past, he has faced situations in which he felt Geelani was stepping onto his turf, which is Jamia Masjid, a grand mosque in the heart of Srinagar, where he has been delivering Friday sermons since 1990. The Mirwaiz’s supporters would keep a close watch in his rallies, making sure no one chanted pro-Geelani slogans.
In 2002, it was Geelani’s doubts on the conduct of his fellow separatists that led to the division of the Hurriyat Conference.