Friday 18 August 2017 News Updated at 10:08 AM IST
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Hurriyat's fading, but a new-age militancy is rising - Deccan Herald
Hurriyat's fading, but a new-age militancy is rising
Zulfikar Majid, DH News Service,
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With the Narendra Modi-led government in New Delhi deviating from the policy of engagement adopted by his predecessors Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh to pin down the Hurriyat Conference leadership, the 24-year-old political platform of the separatist movement in Kashmir is feeling the heat.

The National Investigating Agency (NIA) has arrested seven key leaders of Hurriyat for allegedly receiving funds from Pakistan to foment violence in the Valley, and is set to arrest many more in the days and months to come.

It is the same Hurriyat which was, until last year, directly challenging the state, dictating as to when the people of Kashmir could move on the streets and when businesses could open. During the five-months-long unrest from July to November last year, the business community and the people alike followed the Hurriyat's weekly protest calendar, putting the state in an embarrassing situation.

The only writ of the state on the streets of Kashmir during the heyday of unrest was enforced through the gun-wielding soldiers trying to keep protesters at bay. Not only last year, but in 2008, 2009 and 2010, the Hurriyat dictated terms to the people and the state alike by announcing an endless programme of strikes and protests.

Though security agencies had tried to book some separatist leaders and their operatives over terror funding earlier in 2002, 2006 and 2011, the cases dragged on endlessly and nobody was convicted. There was enough evidence available to the probe agencies then, too, but they did not go after the separatists, perhaps due to the state government's soft approach towards them.

The current offensive by the NIA has, however, unnerved the separatists and their sympathisers in the Valley. With the NIA arresting Altaf Shah, alias Fantoosh, the elder son-in-law of Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and subsequently summoning the latter's two sons for questioning in New Delhi, the separatist camp has started to feel the heat.

In an attempt to gain public support, the Hurriyat called the NIA action a "well-thought(out) plan to malign and defame our sacred movement", but in a telling twist, the people of Kashmir defied a shutdown call given by the frail and increasingly isolated Geelani, moderate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and pro-independence JKLF chief Yasin Malik on July 24 against the arrest of its seven leaders.

On that day, even prominent separatist ideologues and sworn anti-India faces took to the social media to criticise the Hurriyat for calling for a shutdown over "purely personal matters". The one-track approach of the Hurriyat, with strikes and protest calendars but with no real roadmap for the future, has reduced its appeal among the masses. Hurriyat's strategy has become limited and outdated. It has not able to resonate with the youth, who feel a higher degree of alienation today.

The sting operation by a TV channel exposing the murky deals of the separatists and the subsequent NIA raids have also sown differences within the Hurriyat ranks. Two days after senior Hurriyat leader Nayeem Khan was shown admitting on camera that the separatists did receive money from Pakistan and even from the 2008 Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, Geelani's faction of Hurriyat, of which Khan was a senior member, suspended him. Later, in a press conference, Khan slammed senior separatists for selectively targeting him.

The question is, what had kept Hurriyat relevant in Kashmir all these years? When the Hurriyat came into existence in 1993, militancy was at its peak. The conglomerate, a mixed bag of ideologies and personalities, claimed that they "represent the wishes and aspirations of Kashmiris." With Pakistan projecting them as champions of 'azadi' and propagating the same internationally, the Hurriyat was able to encash the anti-India sentiment in the Valley.

The other reason for separatists remaining relevant so long has been their utility to the state in times of crises. When unrests broke out in 2008 and 2010, New Delhi sent high-level delegations to speak to the separatists in a bid to calm tempers. New Delhi tried to repeat the experiment in September 2016 also, when five opposition MPs knocked at the doors of separatist leaders in Srinagar to explore ways to end the unrest, which consumed more than 90 lives. However, the bid ended at Geelani's residence where, even as a mob shouted slogans outside, the Hurriyat leader did not even open his gate for the MPs.

But, what comes next?

The policy of the Modi government has been clear vis-a-vis talks with both the separatists and with Pakistan. New Delhi asserts that when talks with Islamabad happen, it will be only about the part of Kashmir that is occupied by Pakistan. As for talks with the Hurriyat, the Centre says, dialogue will be held once the violence and unrest in Kashmir ends, and even then only within the boundaries of the Constitution of India, something that is unacceptable to the separatists.

However, the hard stance of the Modi government could have dangerous ramifications. Marginalising the Hurriyat could give a chance to new-age militancy to gain more support from the people of Kashmir. Although the number of active militants in Kashmir is still less than 300, popular sentiment, particularly among the youth, has shifted towards them. For the first time in 28 years of militancy, Hurriyat's authority has come into question from the new breed of militants with more hardline views.

It is true that the Hurriyat is not in control of things at the moment, but to say it has lost its relevance may be a little harsh. The Hurriyat, of course, cannot claim to be the sole voice of Kashmiris, because no party, pro-India or separatist, could be the sole representative of the Valley. We must remember that any unrest in Kashmir is fertile ground for Pakistan to exploit.

The governments in Delhi and Srinagar must also remember that they are dealing with their own people, who are alienated and angry and as such need to be befriended. History shows that pushing dissenting voices to the wall has not resolved any dispute, but has only exacerbated the problem.