Dilemmas of Kashmir leaders

Imagine Dr. Farooq Abdullah heading the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (M), or the multi-party combine melting into the National Conference. If it ever happens either way, will it be making history? This poser bothered me on reading the statements from the leaders of the two parties. ‘I let my imagination off the leash to run wild’, and look for all probabilities. Looking outside the ‘magic realism’ of Kashmir politics- where more often than not, illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or normal setting, I suspended my disbelief to find an answer for the riddle and worked on many a permutation and combination after looking at the statements in their historical context.

Dr Farooq Abdullah, last week extended an open invitation to the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, including the Mirwaiz, to join the National Conference, and made an offer to them to work together for the betterment of the state. He also offered to step down from the post of President and offer it to any of the Hurriyat leaders. He also said he was eagerly looking forward to a “Double-Omar Accord” between his son Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, and the Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, on the lines of “Double Farooq”  deal of early eighties.

In 1984 elections the Awami Action Committee, the Peoples Conference and the Panthers Party avowedly supported the National Conference. The ‘Double Farooq Accord’ that was seen as the beginning of the reconciliatory politics in the state helped in ending the traditional feud between the supporters of Sheikh Abdullah and Mirwaiz family. Seen in right perspective in 1984, there was not much of an ideological difference between the National Conference and the newly launched the Peoples Conference. Both parties called for abrogation of the laws extended to the state after 1953 and advocated greater autonomy for the state within Indian union. In early eighties the Peoples Conference was gaining strength not only in the erstwhile Baramulla district but was finding foothold in other districts also. It was slowly emerging as an alternative to the National Conference. Seen in right perspective, the two parties were ideologically symbiotic to each other rather than inimical. It was only in the wake of post-1987 developments that the Peoples Conference steadily graduated to pro-right to self-determination politics and its leader Abdul Ghani Lone emerged as one of the main leaders of the ‘struggle for right to self-determination’ and one of the founding leaders of APHC.

Ostensibly, the Jammu and Kashmir Awami Action Committee at no point of time changed its constitution nor abandoned its demand for the right to self-determinations as envisaged in the United National resolutions. In fact it offered substantial resistance against the 1975 Indira-Sheikh Accord that had seen burial of both the Plebiscite Front and the demand for plebiscite. However, the historical reality is that the Awami Action Committee after jumping over the Janta bandwagon virtually dropped the demand for plebiscite. It also lost its sting as a forceful political party that had the potential of replacing the Plebiscite Front and even moving into the footsteps of the Muslim Conference of early thirties.

It was not just the Awami Action Committee that lost the last-ditch battle against Sheikh Abdullah, but all his erstwhile colleagues who had failed to challenge his political supremacy for three decades had to bite the dust. How the Awami Action Committee lost its verve after this election would be better explained by quoting from one of my articles published in 1978, “During the 1977 the group (AAC) identified itself with the local unit of the Janta Party and committed a political suicide. Mirwaiz Farooq’s image got tarnished in his own lobby; his vociferous supporters turned cynical. Rama Krishan Hegede’s statement that Mirwaiz had agreed to dissolve the Awami Action Committee and join Janta Party has put its cadres in a quandary” (Onlooker July 16-31 1978). The defeat of the Janta Party in the elections not only set the Awami Action Committee groping in the dark, but also reduced it to a rudderless boat with no ideology to steer it through. In 1984, Farooq Abdullah had become a symbol of resistance against New Delhi ’s hegemony in the state. Farooq, in 1983 and 1984 for his defiance of most powerful lady in India , had become a media darling. Mrs. Gandhi had pronounced him as a ‘security risk’ and to pin him down his association with the Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front was played up to the hilt. Farooq Abdullah then was no bête noire for the “separatists”, to refurbish his image Moulvi Farooq joined hands with Farooq Abdullah. The Awami Action Committee after first sliding into the Janta camp, then countenancing the National Conference in 1987 elections, had lost popularity within its own support base. Seen in right historical perspective the Awami Action Committee again got catapulted to the centre stage of “pro-right to self-determination politics only after 1990 and started playing lead role after Mirwaiz Umar Farooq initiated the idea of setting up the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

Truth, is that the neither the Awami Action Committee nor the Peoples Conference are alien to the National Conference. So, Farooq Abdullah’s aspiring to join hands with them should not be surprising Truth is that much water has flown down the Jhelum since eighties and political scenario has undergone much change and many new characters have appeared on the scene. On the face of it there seems little probability of the APHC (M) joining the National Conference lock, stock and barrel, but as the adage goes, ‘there is nothing impossible in politics’.

The question arises: how serious and sincere the National Conference president was in inviting the APHC (M) leadership to join his party? He is known for making off the cuff remarks and setting ball rolling knowing well that it was not going to gather any moss, but the APHC (M) took the offer very seriously and debated over it in its three-day marathon session. It invited Farooq Abdullah to join the conglomerate. It would be worth to quote the APHC response exactly as contained in its press release:

“In the meeting regarding Dr. Farooq Abdullah’s recent avowal, APHC maintains that Kashmir is the nuclear flash point between two neighbouring nuclear powers of the Subcontinent, if remains unresolved can invite cataclysm, so keeping in view the sufferings of common people, let us jointly put forward the efforts to achieved the cherished goal of azadi (Freedom), so come and join the APHC platform for bright future of generation next.”

Dr. Abdullah might have extended invitation to APHC (M) jocularly but after its response he changed it into a serious discourse. He did not reject the offer of joining the APHC (M) as he would have done in the past nor attached any conditions for considering the offer. He promised to place it before the working committee of his party after the elections. It should not come be as surprise if the National Conference Working Committee decides to join the APHC (M) for leading the conglomerate. There now seems a wafer thin barrier that separates the two…

The Hurriyat (M) response has also cast Farooq Abdullah in the lead role for arbitrating an accord between them and New Delhi . Acting like an elderly statesman he has announced that he was going to arrange meetings between APHC (M) and New Delhi for debating and discussing charter of their demands. The Hurriyat Conference (M) has had number of meetings with both the NDA and UPA leaders including Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. And the last one-on-one was held in May 2006 and since there New Delhi has exhibited freezing coldness towards the APHC (M). New Delhi wanted the APHC(M) to participate in the second round table conference and sit in it as yet another group along the National Conference, the PDP, the Pradesh Congress and about dozen other parties. The APHC (M) at that time had expressed its reservations about it and had insisted on another round of one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister. Ever since 2006, the conglomerate leadership has been lobbying for resumption of the dialogue with no success.

Can Farooq Abdullah change New Delhi ’s mindset and make a much-awaited meeting of APHC (M) with New Delhi possible. This seems now possible as the APHC (M) leaders have further improved upon their “good boy behavior”- by deciding not to boycott the elections and ‘rebuffing those advocating it.

Let us wait to see where the “good boy” behavior leads the APHC (M) to- if it culminates into realising Farooq Abdullah’s dream of ‘Double Omar’ and APHC(M) working in tandem with NC.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist and author of The Cindering Chinars and Kashmir in War and Diplomacy)