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Doublespeak: why do Abdullahs & Muftis often sound like the Hurriyat?

Gowhar Geelani | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 11:20 IST

There is a certain pattern to the statements of Kashmir's politicians that tells you whether they are in power or out.

The state's most influential political dynasties, the Abdullahs and the Muftis, often speak the language of the Hurriyat out of power, and sing paeans to New Delhi when they assume the chair. They are "soft separatists" when not ruling and turn "patriotic Indians" after winning elections.

That is perhaps why there is a growing perception that they represent New Delhi in Kashmir, not Kashmir in New Delhi.

Former chief minister Farooq Abdullah has an uncanny knack of dropping "bombshells", ensuring he stays in the news. No wonder he is the media's darling.

His latest: he reportedly said at the seminar 'Good Relations Between India and Pakistan Vital for Peace in South Asia' that "even if the entire Indian army is deployed in the state, it cannot defend the people against militants and terrorists".

Batting for talks and friendly relations between the two countries, he said, "if it's not done, even Farooq Abdullah, who is speaking in front of you today, will not be there tomorrow. One or the other terrorist will come and kill me."

That's not all.

Man of many words

A week earlier, the news agency ANI had quoted him as saying that "Pakistan Administered Kashmir is in Pakistan and will remain. Jammu and Kashmir is in India and will remain. We need to understand this."

The statement essentially challenged the India's position on Kashmir. On 22 February 1994, parliament had adopted a resolution declaring that "the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been, is and shall be an integral part of India and any attempts to separate it from the rest of the country will be resisted by all necessary means."

Further, the resolution had demanded that "Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir which they have occupied through aggression."

Farooq's statement starkly contrasts the stand he had articulated as Chief Minister : "India should bomb militant camps inside Pakistan Administered Kashmir".

Omar Abdullah seems to have followed his father's lead. Since losing the 2014 assembly election, the former chief minister has been very active on Twitter.

His commentary on the current political situation is often interesting. Only, some of his comments so far could well have been made by the Hurriyat leaders.

Kashmiris will never side with the BJP, Mehbooba Mufti promised weeks before allying with the BJP

About his father's statement to the ANI, Omar tweeted: "I'm amazed that the channels are treating my father's views as though they are something he's never said before."

On 7 November, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a rally in Srinagar, Omar in a series of tweets said: "Given the number of people from Bihar in the audience in Srinagar today the Hon PM should have come before the polls closed in that state :)."

"Mufti Syed [Sayeed] is right PM's 7th Nov Srinagar rally will be historic - for the number of people arrested to make the rally possible."

He also castigated the PDP-BJP government for banning the internet during the festival of Eid-ul-Azha. "Oh the irony of listening to the PM talking about digital India while we in J&K spent 3 days totally disconnected due to his party & allies."

Of course, he conveniently didn't mention that his own government had frequently shut down internet services to suppress dissent. And it was during his rule that more than 120 youth, mostly teenagers, were killed by the police and the paramilitary during mass protests in the summer of 2010.

Little standing

Their rivals and the current ruling dynasty, the Muftis, have competed with the Abdullah statement for statement.

After coming to power in the early 2000s, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had famously said: "Kashmiri militants don't need guns anymore because their representatives are now in the assembly."

In March this year, after assuming power for a second stint, he described his coalition government with the BJP - the ideological antithesis of his party, the PDP - as "historic". The media had described the partnership as a "wedlock between soft-separatists and ultra-Hindu nationalists".

In the early 2000s, Sayeed's daughter and heir apparent Mehbooba Mufti would visit the families of militants killed fighting the Indian army. Often, she would often console the wailing mothers and sisters of the slain militant, and even shed a few tears herself.

Muftis, Abdullahs use 'soft separatism' to extract favours from New Delhi while keeping voters happy

Campaigning for the last election, she promised voters that "Kashmiris will sacrifice everything but will never side with the BJP. Kashmiris will never compromise with their honour and dignity". The video of her speech has since gone viral, shared around the internet as a testament to her hypocrisy.

So, why do Kashmir's top politicians posture between such seemingly extreme ideological positions?

The impression is that these politicians keep the "separatist pot boiling" once out of power to renegotiate the terms of their largely beneficial relationship with New Delhi.

It's the proverbial 'killing two birds with one stone' strategy: they use "soft separatism" to pretty much blackmail New Delhi into granting them favours, while pretending to represent the "Azadi sentiment."

First published: 1 December 2015, 9:58 IST
Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani is a journalist, commentator and political analyst from Srinagar. He was formerly with Deutsche Welle, Germany.