In February 1987, an array of the Muslim United Front – the original incarnation of the Hurriyat Conference sans Awami Action Committee of the Mirwaiz family and People’s Conference of Abdul Ghani Lone – appeared draped in white shrouds at Iqbal park in Srinagar for an election rally – vowing to purify the system of all pollutants in Kashmir politics.
This was a rare spectacle of surging crowds keen on seeing their new heroes who had joined hands for the cause of Kashmiri Muslims. This was reflective of Kashmiri nationalism and also reiteration of its over-dominant Muslim identity.
Thirty-two years ago, it was a poll season. National Conference and Congress had joined hands to stay in power, something that was laid down in unwritten and unspoken Rajiv-Farooq Accord of November 1986. The two rival parties of the 1983 Assembly polls had come together after the Farooq Abdullah government was restored, of course in alliance with the Congress, after the solo NC government was dismissed in July1984.
The spring of 2019 is a poll season again. Much has changed in the thinking of the people and the landscape that Kashmir was in 1987. Muslim unity, the slogan of Farooq Abdullah and Mirwaiz Moulvi Mohammad Farooq in 1983 polls was taken over by the MUF.
Quite often it has crossed my mind as to what this Muslim unity in Kashmir means. There is absolutely no doubt that it has its own paradox, to that I will come later. But in the spring of 1987, it meant so many things all at once.
Kashmiri Muslim youth were active in the electoral process. Their enthusiasm was seen to be believed- with green flags in their hands and full throated slogans , “Yahan Kaya Chalega Nizam-e-Mustafa.” Their faces were red with passion and the internal urge to change everything to secure a future for themselves.
Amidst all this, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat who later became a key figure on the separatist front , had the courage to say “ I love Pakistan,” and a thunderous applause followed as if the MUF was a natural ally of Pakistan . But he did not stop there. Bhat followed it up, “ but I don’t hate India.” This was not a balancing ac . Prof Bhat was perhaps prophesising how Kashmir should see itself in future where the frenzy of the Muslim unity should not be seen as Pakistan’s extended vision in the Valley. It was also a warning that hating India could be suicidal . It was a message of co-existence.
That concept of co-existence has been frayed as the whole idea has been deconstructed by those swearing by the religious unity. The proponents of the Muslim unity have reduced it to the power gaining game. It is ironical that they seek support from the people for sitting in the democratic institutions that are wedded to secularism. Worse is their own past. Some of these leaders who swear that they would offer the ultimate sacrifice to protect their people, presided over the massacre of their own community members.
The sacrifice is not just a nine-letter word. On the political stage it means lot many things. The leaders who cannot see beyond their self, who do not allow the new faces to take up the reins or choose their potential successors or feel threatened by the real intellectuals and men with genuine support on the ground, need to introspect what they say and what they do. It is a moment of truth for them.
It is not charisma or eloquence that make leaders remarkable. They need to have ideas not slogans. In the name of sacrifice for the community, they have sacrificed the community’s interests. Kashmir continues to long for the comforting combination of moderation and stability. The Common Kashmiri Muslims pay the price for their irresponsible utterances. Kashmir could have been a fairly calm place despite what it is undergoing. But the leadership has let it down. Kashmiris want a way forward not the self-destructive narratives. Wake up to the home truths, these may be bitter, but that is the truth nevertheless. Kashmiri Muslims deserve their place in the world with respect not with stigmas that their leaders are keen to stick on them.