In 2010-, Omar Abdullah led National Conference, and Congress alliance government put him under house-detention. Three years, later in October 2013, restrictions on his movement were lifted, just after three weeks for pulling hugely enthusiastic crowds in the South and North Kashmir, he was again put under house-arrest. The contingents of police stationed outside his residence controlled ingress and egress to his house. There were reports in newspapers that on occasion’s men in uniform prevented his immediate kin from visiting the house. It were the handouts on all smaller or bigger developments and happenings in and around the state issued on daily basis by his the Hurriyat (G) that only connected him with the press and people.
It might have been a festive day for Syed Ali Shah Geelani, when he offered congregational Friday prayers, obligatory on all Muslims at the Jamia Masjid, Hyderpora, some two hundred yards from his residence. For about, three thousands days, five times a day Muezzin had been calling on him from the Masjid in his neighborhood to join the congregational prayers, but for his house detention, he could not respond to the calling. More than physical confinement, that has been part of his fifty eight years political struggle it might have been spiritually tormenting for him.
In fact, Geelani’s house detention symbolized the shrinkage of space to all kinds of public dissent – political activities to student activism on all the campuses. In 2014, there was a change of guard in the state, the BJP in alliance with the PDP for the first time entered the corridors of power in the state. Interestingly, some leaders under the resistance canopy expected, the new dispensation unlike the predecessor state government allowing big space for the voices of the dissent. Moreover, castigating the Congress leadership for its hideous and deceitful policy towards Kashmir it expected the Modi government to revive the “Vajpayee policy on Kashmir”. It did not happen. Instead, the policy of strangulating all space for the voices of dissent initiated during Omar Abdullah government continued to be a gospel for Mufti Mohammad Syed and his daughter.
The PDP-Congress alliance not only perpetuated the house arrest of Syed Ali Geelani but also prevented Mirwaiz Omar Farooq on a good number of Friday’s from offering congregational prayers at the historic Jamia Masjid. Historically, the Jamia Masjid after 1819, when Ranjeet Singh’s governors had locked it for the first time devotees were stopped from saying prayers on so many Saturdays in this seven hundred year old Masjid. All space was denied to Mohammad Yasin Malik. Lots of political workers were detained under the Public Safety Act and hundreds youth jailed and put in lock ups. In 2016, as described by the New York Times, the year of dead eyes’- pelleting to blindness hundreds of children and youth was added to the contemporary history of Kashmir.
Some responsible newspapers, within their limited freedom, had warned the state authorities against the inherent dangers of choking public space and pushing the younger generations to the wall. The summers of dissents during 2008, 2009 and 2010, had attracted international headlines and caused thousands of columns on the Kashmir problem calling upon the contesting parties to seize the opportunity for resolving this outstanding dispute. For the first time, intellectuals in India had joined the international chorus and called upon New Delhi to address the problem that had caused four wars, two dangerous stand offs and a dangerous nuclear flashpoint in the region. Journalists and opinion writers from Vir Sanghvi to Swaminathan Aiyar had fairly analyzed the dispute in its historical context and come up with an honest opinion about the resolution of the dispute. For putting the 19 year “armed struggle” or “insurgency” on the backseat, the 2008, summer of dissent followed by the 2010-Intifada were seen a major paradigm shift- from violence to peaceful protests. This paradigm shift many analysts believed provided space for engaging leadership of the state and finding an amicable settlement of the dispute. The tree summers of dissent were followed by largerly three summers of peace. Nevertheless, the Congress government instead of building upon the opportunities offered by the peaceful dissents and waning armed resistance, recognizing the harsher historical realities of the problem and initiating a genuine dialogue chose to stifle all the voices of dissent.
Denied space to leaders of stature and intriguingly pooh-poohed the idea of opening a dialogue with a section of Kashmir leadership Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had engaged in 2005 and promised to continue the engagement. The ‘coerced peace’ bursted like a soap bubble after Mohammad Afzal Guru was put to the gallows. Millions lulled to curfew for weeks, but, the coercive tactics did not blunt the pent-up anger instead sharpened it further. The strangulating all public space for the voices of dissent in a way is comparable to the rigged 1987 elections that had seen huge participation of younger generation. The denial of fair elections had worked in 1989 as a catalyst for the birth of militancy equally strangulating all space for voices of dissent, and repressive tactics have not also augured well for the state.
Four days back, the banner headlines in newspaper read, “Jammu and Kashmir Police chief says Geelani, Mirwaiz, and Malik free, but with a rider: ‘don’t make anti-national speeches.” Next day, Geelani offered prayers in a Masjid in his neighborhood, Mohammad Yasin Malik addressed a congregation at Soura and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at the Jamia Masjid. Let us not get embroiled in the polemics whether such a decision of bigger political import should have been announced by the chief executive or an administrator instead see it as a way forward towards building bridges that could help in initiating a meaningful dialogue between all the contesting parties for the resolution of the longstanding dispute. To see a meaningful dialogue happen, the contemporary history offers more than one lesson to those who really matter; that in framing the Kashmir policy it is not arm-twisting but providing adequate space to the voices of dissent to articulate their point of view that helps.