Hurriyat’s Political Problem: Lack of Space or Absence of Discourse?
Published on March 16, 2017

Every time the authorities detain separatist leaders or place restrictions on their movement, they cry ‘foul’ and only recently Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani has once again complained about the lack of ‘political space’ in Indian administered Kashmir (IaK). On the face of it, Geelani sahib’s protest appears to be justified as Hurriyat leaders are frequently confined to their homes and thus his claim that the PDP led coalition is imposing “undue restrictions on all political activities,” does seem quite convincing. However, Geelani sahib’s assertion also raises a very pertinent question about what exactly are the political activities that the Hurriyat has not been able to undertake due to the lack of ‘political space’ as a result of government curbs restricting the movement and activities of its leaders?

Talking about the latest such incident, Geelani sahib has revealed that restrictions had been imposed on the Hurriyat leadership at a time when the separatist conglomerate had planned to protest against “state sponsored cold-hearted actions” in IaK. This statement sounds very familiar as it is one of the most common observations made by our leaders and on looking back one would find that almost all detentions of separatist leaders or restrictions placed on their movements coincide with some plan of the Hurriyat leaders to either organise a hartal or lead some protest march. Therefore, to say that the “political activity” of the separatists solely revolves around protests and hartals would certainly not be an exaggeration!

Though the Hurriyat leadership often takes offence for being denied their constitutional right to organise protests, they also need to realise that the same constitution that gives them this right also makes it incumbent on the state to ensure that law and order is maintained. It is here that the Hurriyat has lost out because despite calling for peaceful agitations it has been unable to ensure that protests don’t take a violent turn. Thus, the authorities have a ready excuse to justify taking separatist leaders into ‘preventive custody’ to avert a law and order problem. Isn’t it ironical that protests and hartals which the Hurriyat considers as its ‘master-weapons’ are actually helping New Delhi to legally clamp down on separatists?

Let us therefore keep emotions aside and think rationally. When the authorities have allowed the separatists to observe shutdowns as per their ‘protest calendar’, how can they expect the international community to agree with the Hurriyat’s contention that it is being denied “political space”? And this is why the separatist conglomerate needs to revisit its open-ended ‘protest calendar’ strategy as the same has now degenerated into a mere ritual and thus lost most of its appeal. Protests are a legitimate and a powerful means of expressing public discontentment, but too much of everything is bad and holding too many protests is no exception. This is something on which our leaders need to seriously ponder upon.

Besides being unimaginative, the concept of ‘protest calendars’ conveys the dangerous impression that we are only ‘protesting for protest’s sake’.  Since what I have stated is likely to offend some, I would like to support my contention with an example from the recent past. Readers would recall that in August last year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told the media that the UN would continue to monitor the situation in Kashmir, including through the UN military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).

However, the very next day the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric set the record straight by clarifying that the UNMOGIP “does not have a mandate there (in J&K) beyond the Line of Control.”

Once the UN has made it amply clear that the UNMOGIP has nothing to do with the Kashmir issue, the very idea of staging protests at its headquarters is completely meaningless. Yet for reasons that defy any logical explanation, the Hurriyat still continues announcing elaborate plans to stage protests at the UNMOGIP headquarters in order to draw attention of the UN to the Kashmir issue. When the authorities don’t permit this, the separatists demand international intervention saying that ‘political space’ is being denied to them. However the reality is that for the international community, the Hurriyat’s efforts to seek assistance of the UNMOGIP to highlight the Kashmir issue is akin to barking up the wrong tree and that’s why the separatists’ appeals go unheard.

Ever since its formation in 1993, the Hurriyat has been leading the ‘self determination’ movement by calling for protests and the people of Kashmir have wholeheartedly responded to their appeals for observing hartals. However, nearly a quarter century later one finds that this struggle in which many thousands have been killed and injured hasn’t made any progress whatsoever. The Hurriyat claims that considerable progress has been made regarding resolution of the Kashmir issue and Geelani sahib had even announced last year that “never before have we been so close to freedom with such clarity as we are now.” However, despite these verbal assurances, there is no physical evidence that supports their viewpoint.

Thus, if the Hurriyat continues to only use the ‘protest-plank’ for taking the ‘right to self determination’ movement forward then there are all the reasons to be worried because though potent, protests hartals alone can’t get us the ‘right to self determination’. Thus, if the Kashmir imbroglio has to be resolved then there is a need to analyse all related factors and then chalk out a definite strategy to address each issue one by one. Therefore instead of continuously harping over the fact that the UN has called for plebiscite in Kashmir, the main focus of our attention should be on why is it that these resolutions haven’t been implemented even after seven decades. Till the time we don’t accurately identify the problems that are impeding resolution of the Kashmir issue and take appropriate actions to resolve the same, self determination will remain a distant dream no matter how much and how long we protest!

Tailpiece: Even though it may upset some but the bitter truth is that the Hurriyat’s complaint regarding lack of ‘political space’ in IaK doesn’t carry much weight. Is it not a fact that while the constitution of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) prohibits its people from questioning PaK’s accession to Pakistan, in IaK there are no restrictions on citizens expressing reservations on Kashmir’s accession to India? Thus, if the Kashmir issue still remains ‘frozen’ in time and space despite the numerous sacrifices rendered by the people, then the reason for this is obviously not lack of political space but the absence of a convincing political discourse that goes beyond protests and hartals!

-         Based in New Delhi, the author can be reached at niloofar.qureshi@yahoo.com

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