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Danger of youths turning to gun again: Mirwaiz

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the moderate Hurriyat faction of Kashmiri separatists, spoke to The Hindu on elections in Jammu and Kashmir, Narendra Modi government’s Kashmir policy and the danger of youth turning to guns again. Excerpts.

Q) The ongoing election is being seen as a rejection of your politics and separatism. What do you say?

A) Those who interpret people’s participation in elections as an approval of status quo or as a rejection of separatism are on the wrong track. If they act with that assumption it will complicate matters. Successful conduct of the election is not an alternative to seeking a lasting solution for the Kashmir issue. We must distinguish between grievances and aspirations. Elections are a mechanism to address grievances of the people; aspirations will have to be addressed separately. In 2008, the turnout was 62 percent; within two years hundreds of thousands of people hit the street with protests. If elections are a means to achieve better governance, we have no problems with it. But the attempt to project the elections as a periodical referendum on the Kashmir question is not sustainable.

In an open letter to the people of India, published in The Hindu before the last parliament election, you had said the new government must choose between the beaten old path and a bold new path on Kashmir. Which path has the Modi government taken?

It is moving on the beaten track; with the same old rhetoric. When Nawaz Sharif came to Mr Modi’s swearing in, it presented a great opportunity, which has been wasted.

But the BJP points out that for there is more concern for human rights under the new government. For instance, the army owned up its mistake after shooting innocent youths recently.

If the BJP shows political wisdom, as it did in this case, we welcome it. But there are several other issues. The AFSPA, the overwhelming military presence itself.. We were hoping that the BJP would follow A B Vajpayee’s approach to the Kashmir issue. But Mr Modi appears to have a different agenda. The BJP wants to be in power in the state, it is creating polarisation. Which may help it in the short run, but in the long run, it is dangerous. Modi wants to be seen as a statesman, someone who has taken India and south Asia to new heights. How can he do it without resolving Kashmir?

But there are signals that the Modi government wants to be sensitive. You don’t think the army expressing regret is a big deal?

There are signals. But I hope these are not only related to the elections, for the BJP to make some political gains. Or whether there is genuine realization that New Delhi must take the people of Kashmir into confidence.

You will wait until the election is over before judging the Modi government?

Yes, we are waiting and watching. We have to see whether the BJP has completely abandoned the path of Vajpayee. We also have to see what do statements such as, ‘indianising or integrating Kashmir’ mean. These come from BJP leaders and RSS leaders. These are serious issues. All said, Jammu and Kashmir is the only Muslim majority entity. If the culture, religion etc come under any kind of assault, it will not help the situation.

What if the BJP comes to power in Jammu and Kashmir?

It does not affect anything. It could be better in one way, as Kashmiris won’t be dealing with proxies, such as the NC and the PDP. What worse can happen that has not happened in the last 25 years?

This round of elections appears to be the most fair and transparent elections ever in the state. People have voted in large numbers. What if the government of India talks to the new government as the sole representative of the Kashmiri people? How would you react?

The new assembly is only to address the grievance part of the Kashmir issue; aspirations will have to be dealt with separately. This is not a referendum on the Kashmir question. If New Delhi thinks that this is an acceptance of its position by the people, then let them hold a referendum like in Scotland, and if we lose, we will dismantle Hurriyat. If they are not willing to do that, they should accept that the election is not a referendum.

So Hurriyat represents the aspirations of the Kashmiri people?

Yes, we do. We don’t need to prove that by agitations and deaths. Even after the 2008 election, in 2010, I addressed a rally of 8,00,000 people. One incident can spark a fireball even now. I don’t want to prove a point here. We want to mobilise resistance through non-violent ways. But when you are shrinking the space of democratic resistance, people are turning to violence. There is a disturbing trend that Kashmiris are turning to the gun again. In several recent encounters, local, well-educated youths were involved. More than a 1000 people have been jailed to enable the conduct of elections. This façade of normalcy is maintained by a police state crossing all limits. 


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Printable version | Jul 20, 2021 7:08:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/interview-with-kashmiri-leader-mirwaiz-umar-farooq/article6662241.ece

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