Hurriyat meets civil society to rethink strategy. But public mood still volatile
As Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik were holding a day-long meeting with the civil society groups at Geelani's residence in Srinagar's Hyderpora, a large group of people outside were shouting pro-Azadi slogans and calling for the continuance of the shutdown, which is already 124-days old.
The slogans also held an implicit warning against any separatist leader who might be seeking to rethink the protest roster in force since the killing of the popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on 8 July.
"Bharat ka jo yaar hai, gaddar ha, gaddar hai. (India's friend is a traitor)," the gathering shouted in an apparent reference to Malik and Mirwaiz who are thought to have started a process to review the "resistance strategy" in practice so far.
The leaders' recent release from the police custody makes them prone to this public perception, and even more so with the meeting taking place in its immediate wake.
And that was why, Malik felt the need to come out midway through the meeting and reassure the gathering outside that they had so far embarked on no radical departure from the strategy. He also assured the gathering that none of the civil society groups or activists had called for an end to the hartal (protest).
And later at the end of the meeting, Hurriyat issued a statement which basically said nothing other than what all the "stakeholders" had authorised "joint resistance leadership" to take decisions on their behalf.
Resist & fight
"All the participants unanimously appreciated united face of resistance leadership and authorised them with their full mandate and support to continue the freedom struggle with zeal and passion," the statement said. "It was emphasised upon both, leadership and nation, to remain steadfast and committed to take the freedom struggle to its logical end."
The statement also reiterated that people should follow the Hurriyat programmes "in letter and spirit".
"Participants stressed upon the people in general, and stakeholders in particular, to be aware of the nefarious designs of the oppressor who exploit them through many tools. They said that economic losses, educational hiccups and social constrains are a part of the freedom movement and we all should overcome them collectively with firmness, wisdom, and patience," the statement read.
"It was unanimously decided that the programs from the Joint Resistance Leadership should be followed in letter and spirit and whosoever violated it should be convinced and be conveyed to that discipline and resilience has to be adopted for achieving our goal as our freedom struggle is nourished by the sacred blood of our martyrs."
Strength in numbers
The meeting continued through the day. It was prolonged by the endless speeches of the leaders of various civil society groups. Every group had sent several of its members which, according to an estimate, took the number of the people who attended the meeting to more than two hundred.
This put off several participants, among them Mushtaq Chaya, one of the leading businessman in Valley, who left early and expressed his pleasure with the way the meeting had gone ahead. So did Ghulam Rasool Hami, a prominent Barelvi cleric.
Among the first to speak at the meeting was the High Court Bar Association president Mian Abdul Qayoom who, sources said, warned against abandoning the course of action adopted so far. He also quoted Quranic verses in his speech to buttress his argument.
His speech, said a participant, set the tone which subsequent speakers found it difficult to radically stray from.
"Nobody wanted to say anything radically different and become the odd man out and be recognised by a large group of people in attendance," a civil society activist, who spoke at the meeting, said.
"I don't want hartal to continue which has only decimated the economy of the people and snatched the livelihoods of people. But I had to nuance my message so that I don't go against the general drift of speeches," he added.
However, as with the participants whom Catch had a word with, there was an implicit politics in play. That is, none of the participants wanted to be blamed for the possible change in tack and political fallout.
"Hurriyat didn't feel the need to talk to us in the past four months. Leaders took all the decisions and issued programs as they willed. Now why call us when things are becoming difficult and their strategy has started to backfire, one of the activists who participated said.
"So, most of us put the ball back in their court. Any change in strategy should be their decision, not ours, so that tomorrow they don't blame us if things go wrong."