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Hurriyat vs National Conference: Two versions of Jammu and Kashmir's troubled history

Riyaz Wani | Updated on: 18 August 2017, 19:23 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

An ongoing political tug of war in Kashmir has been going on for weeks. The medium being used is successive statements to the press.

On one side of the ring is Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani, and on the other is the principal Opposition in the state, the National Conference.

The centre of the battle royale are two intra-Kashmir narratives underpinned by some loaded questions as to the historical circumstances that have brought Kashmir to its prevailing political cul-de-sac.

The origins of the battle

It began when National Conference (NC) leader and former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah opposed the separatist campaign against the apprehended repeal of the Article 35A. He asked them bluntly to stay out of it “as they didn’t believe in Indian Constitution”.

“Separatist leaders have no business talking about Article 35A,” Omar said, while articulating his party’s opposition to the moves to tinker with the state subject law considered to be the lynchpin of the already battered special constitutional status of the state in the Indian Union.

However, more than the separatist position on the issue, Omar’s rejection of the separatist role was prompted by Geelani’s earlier reluctance to oppose the extension of GST to the state - a move that too is seen as detrimental to J&K's special position.

In a statement then, Geelani had controversially left the matter to be sorted out with the Centre by the state government and the business community. When NC raised an objection to this position, Geelani, in a statement, accused the party of being primarily responsible for diluting J&K's special status during its stints in power.

Thus began a political confrontation whose play in the public sphere has brought face to face two narratives – one plied by separatists and thus dominant and standard, and another a shade of the mainstream politics and thus out of favour and struggling for credibility.

The confrontation

“Since its existence, National Conference has been constantly changing its goal post from autonomy to pre-1953 position to self-determination and so on, as suits its only aim that is how to get to the chair and for that purpose the party can go to any extent. It has excelled in the art of changing colours like a chameleon, as its history of past 70 years bears testimony (sic),” a statement issued by the separatist trio of Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik read.

“It was late Mr (Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah) who being a people's representative forced Maharaja Hari Singh to hand over Kashmir to India. He himself mentioned in his biography Aatish-e-Chinar that Gandhiji was not ready to send Indian army to Kashmir but Sheikh sahib convinced him to do so in order to safeguard the ‘secularism of India’,” it continues.

The statement added that when Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru promised “before the world community” that a plebiscite would be held in J&K to decide its future and the world community pressured India and Pakistan to do so in deference to the various United Nations resolutions on the state, it was Abdullah who opposed this demand in 1948 at the UN Security Council.

“When the UN nominated Sir Owen Dixon as a representative to assess the holding of RSD (Right to self-determination), it was late Sheikh Abdullah who on 27th Oct 1950 decided to establish a constitutional assembly to legitimise Kashmiris accession to India,” the statement reads.

“The Indira Abdullah accord of 1975 was another blow to the people's resistance movement when late Sheikh Abdullah again let the nation down after decimating the Plebiscite Front (which Sheikh was leading at the time) and the efforts and sacrifices of those who stood by him when he was leading them in that direction.”

The counter attack

However, NC mounted a counter-attack, bringing forth a version of the history which held Geelani, a leader with impeccable separatist credentials, responsible for also betraying the Kashmir cause in his past career as a Jamaat-i-Islami politician who was a three-time MLA.

Addressing Geelani as an “ex-MLA”, NC asked him to “introspect and stop selling blood of youth to curry favour with the current political dispensation as interim relief in the current investigation into questionable and unaccounted financial dealings by his kith and kin”.

“If Geelani thinks 1975 accord was treachery, then he is the biggest traitor for validating the erosion of the State’s autonomy from 1953 to 1975 by being an MLA and contesting candidate during that time when the entire State stood united against these pliant regimes in J&K. Geelani continued to contest elections even after 1975 and did so until 1987. He was the last of the front-row Hurriyat leaders who renounced electoral politics and even opposed this path of resistance in communications with his erstwhile colleagues and was hesitant to resign as MLA”, the NC statement said.

NC mounted a counter-attack which held Geelani responsible for also betraying the Kashmir cause

“Geelani Sahab’s perception that everyone in Kashmir except him is accountable and answerable is a delusion. He is answerable for asking for invaluable and unimaginable sacrifices from the people while choosing to shun all possible opportunities to deliver tangible and practical results to resolve the conflict. It has become clear beyond any doubt that Ex-MLA Geelani is fighting for his own political image and purely personal agenda rather than working towards a just and fair resolution of the conflict”.

The NC also accused Geelani for working in league with ruling PDP making repeated attempts to bail out the PDP-BJP Government.

“It was Geelani who provided cover to the PDP-BJP government to extend the GST regime to the state when he issued a statement ‘cautioning’ the stakeholders from opposing this move in a veiled yet evident manner,” the statement said. “The same Geelani threatened an agitation over the issue of imposition of property tax by the previous NC-led Government. At that time every issue he deemed fit was worth an agitation - even when such policies had no political or constitutional bearings”.

NC also said that some of Geelani’s relatives have been given “custom-made, plum postings by the PDP-BJP Government as a price for his silence”.

This is the first time that the NC has so aggressively taken on Geelani and highlighted his role as a mainstream politician when the former under Sheikh Abdullah was fighting for plebiscite.

In fact, as NC has said, Geelani continued to contest polls until the 1987 assembly election, which he won. But he resigned when separatist militancy broke out in 1989 and later became a prominent leader of the Hurriyat.

The ongoing war of words has pitted Geelani against Sheikh Abdullah as two contending narratives of Kashmiri politics. The outcome of the spat may achieve nothingbut it has brought back into public domain some historical facts which have tested the political monopoly of the separatist discourse.

First published: 18 August 2017, 19:23 IST