Recently, a report carried in prominent national daily generated a round of heated debate on social media in Kashmir. But it was conveniently overlooked by local dailies. Even most of the other national dailies ignored it. But the questions it raised haven't gone away. They may be off Facebook, but continue to be discussed in private conversations and linger on in the collective subconscious.
The report was about the Hurriyat patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani's grandson Anees-ul-Islam being appointed as a research officer in the Jammu and Kashmir's tourism department, with an alleged annual package of Rs 12 lakh.
But more than the job, the timing of the appointment was telling. Anees got the job in the throes of the unrest last year, in which nearly a hundred people lost their lives, several hundred were blinded and thousands of others were injured.
Most of these excesses took place when people were following the calendar for protests and shutdown issued by the 'Joint Resistance Leadership' led by Geelani. Jails were bursting with protesters. Undeterred, the Hurriyat imposed a six-month-long hartal, which divested thousands of their livelihoods.
Obeying the directions in the Hurriyat's strict protest programme, knots of youth punished attempts to reopen shops or plying of traffic even as government forces were going around killing, maiming and arresting the protesters and political activists.
Except for the law-and-order machinery, government didn't function. All offices were shut, not to mention the tourism department, which anyway had no tourists to cater to. Even the state Secretariat was attended by only a trickle of employees, most of them part of the biannual move from Jammu.
But suddenly, the tourism department got active. Not to work on a new strategy to draw tourists to Kashmir, but to process the applications it had invited for a senior level post at Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre. And among around 140 applicants, it took it little time to choose Anees, son of Geelani's daughter Farhat and son-in-law Altaf Fantoosh.
What's more, the tourism department, which is directly controlled by the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, didn't refer the post to the Public Service Commission or the Service Selection Board, the state's recruitment agencies charged with recruitment to the state services.
Nobody knew about the appointment until the news came out in early March, stunning everybody. And when it generated a firestorm of debate on social media, Geelani stayed silent. His organisation chose not to respond.
But the state government did. Irony died a thousand deaths when the government jumped to the defence of Anees, and was at pains to dissociate Geelani from the taint.
“There is no question of any creation of any post or any influence having been used in this selection. The shortlisted candidates were called for interview on November 5, 2016. Only 32 of the 35 shortlisted candidates turned up for the interview which was held by a proper selection committee formed by following the rules and procedure of the SKICC,” Farooq Shah, secretary of the tourism department told the media, explaining that Anees was qualified for the job.
But was he?
Questions and responses
Many people have raised questions about the fairness of the process. And given the context, the timing and the circumstances of the recruitment, there are legitimate grounds to suspect this. Was the appointment clean as the government has asserted?
Many people, most of them Hurriyat supporters, have latched on to the government statement and passed off the recruitment as a normal event which should have little connection to the troubled state of affairs at the time.
Other responses on social media to the development have been along following lines:
“What has Geelani got to do with the appointment of his grandson?”
“Geelani didn't know about it.”
“Geelani didn't seek the appointment for his grandson.”
“Doesn't Geelani's grandson have a right to do a government job? How does it detract from Geelani's credentials as a pro-freedom leader?”
“If a son or grandson doesn't want to follow the father or grandfather's ideology, the latter can't be held responsible for it.”
Pin drop silence
There has been little to clear the air on this appointment. There has been no further story in the media that could have brought some more facts to light. This has ensured that its deeply troubling political dimensions have remained under wraps: the government's enthusiastic yet sly defence of the recruitment has met Hurriyat silence, and between them, a spasm of social media conversations among a restricted set of users has done little to push the issue into larger public domain.
And this is what makes the situation all the more rotten: an inexplicable closing of ranks among the state government, local media, separatists and the sections of public to cover up the dubious appointment in the government service of a top separatist leader's grandson, when teenagers were dying, getting blinded and thousands of others were losing their livelihoods on that very leader's clarion call for resistance and sacrifice for azadi.
The same leader who, to show himself as an examplar of incorruptibility and steadfastness on behalf of his people, slammed the door on a few leaders of the all party delegation who had come to call on him during the peak of the unrest last year.
The question can be asked: why did Geelani take this unbending stance on behalf of the people, and then maintain complete silence over a petty favour, which might have been deliberately advanced by the government to undermine his impeccable public image and to hopefully try and gain some leverage with him?
Incidentally, it was in December last, towards the end of the six-month unrest, that the Hurriyat mysteriously issued a call for the tourists to return to the state. Some people in Kashmir are now drawing the all-important connection. And the Hurriyat's lingering silence only reinforces the truth of this connection.
All about context and timing
The point is not whether the appointment has been made through a due process. Not whether Geelani knew about it at the time. Or whether he or Anees's father had actively sought the job or showed a willingness to accept it. It has, in fact, little to do about the right of a separatist leader's progeny to do a government job.
It is, and I will repeat, about the context, timing and the circumstances under which the appointment was made.
At the time Anees got the job – I will repeat again – nearly a hundred youth had been killed, several hundred blinded and hundreds of others maimed. Six months of uninterrupted curfews and shutdown had broken the back of economy, leaving thousands jobless. But nobody complained. On the contrary, people steadfastly followed Hurriyat protest programs. And Geelani was the leader of this resistance.
Set aside the state government, even if a private concern had offered a job to Anees under the circumstances, he had no moral right to take it.
This is a point that was tellingly made by a local columnist in a piece in a leading J&K English daily: “Geelani runs a movement which is too strong to be shaken by the appointment of his grandson. But when your child prefers a job, whose child is to be recruited as a foot soldier to pay with his life?”
Incidentally, a day after the news about Anees's concealed appointment broke, two militants were killed in an encounter at Tral. Four days later, two more militants and a 15-year-old, Amir Nazir Wani, were killed at another encounter at Padgampora. Wani was a part of the protest out to save the trapped militants. Their funerals were massively attended.
This extraordinary situation needs a leadership with credibility, foresight and vision. And Kashmir lacks them on both sides of the political divide.
Mainstream politics is reduced to a rapacious greed for power, bereft of any ideological conviction, and separatism is undone by the simplistic and unidimensional strategies of its leaders in the face of the formidable challenge of the unfolding situation in Kashmir.