Why three Hurriyats are better than one

SRINAGAR: The winter winds blowing in
Kashmir are at odds with the heat generated by the impending visit of Hurriyat leaders to Pakistan. To the average onlooker, it’s the timing of the visit that inspires curiosity. The Zardarigovernment is in its final lap, and the Hurriyat leaders are strangely at pains to emphasize that there is no agenda or roadmap they expect from their visit to Pakistan. But this rather insipid declaration of intent disguises a very significant development. The Hurriyat has split once again. 

While Syed Ali Geelani-led hardline Hurriyat (G) has existed along with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led moderate Hurriyat (M), there is now a third faction, of "outcastes", which may be called Hurriyat (O). It comprises leaders like Yasin Malik, Nayeem Khan and Shabir Shah. Although not formally announced, the Pakistan visit is the first public display of a serious chasm in ideologies — only the Mirwaiz has confirmed his visit. 

For mandarins in North Block, this marks another triumph in their policy to divide and weaken the political component of the separatist cause. For New Delhi, while militant violence is an irritant, the real challenge has always been the political force of the separatists. After the elections in 1996 that saw the return of National Conference to power, there was a realization that resentment over bijli-sadak-pani translated into support for the then United Hurriyat. Thus, it was with the generous financial support and encouragement from North Block that PDP was born. The mainstream now had two poles to even things out. That’s when work began on the Hurriyat. 

By 2004, Geelani was forced into a corner of Islamist ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ agenda. The moderates, in turn, were courted. Central funding, armed guards and prominent displays in newspapers upped their profiles and respectability, the aim being to encourage them to contest elections. The carrot was also accompanied with a subtle stick: both the NC and PDP were encouraged to air their own stream of soft separatism. Omar Abdullah’s full autonomy and Mehbooba Mufti’s self-rule are very similar to the deal Hurriyat moderates hoped to cut with New Delhi. 

Sources say the strategy seems to be working. For the past two years, there have been intense efforts through track two to ease the moderates into contesting the 2014 elections. This time, though, the moderates’ repeated diffidence in doing so openly has been factored in. The solution for them is to field proxy candidates from select constituencies. So, while the Lone brothers have patched up with Sajjad fronting for brother Bilal in their family backyard of North Kashmir, the Mirwaiz will place proxy candidates from his stronghold: downtown Srinagar. 

The IB’s plan focuses on steadily diluting the 50 shades of grey in the separatist spectrum until one reaches white. When a senior moderate leader recently accused Geelani of representing forces of darkness, he perhaps didn’t realise how closely he was reflecting New Delhi’s thinking. 

This plan is the reason why since 2011 all these leaders are suddenly singing a different tune. Prof Abdul Ghani Bhatt set the ball rolling, saying openly what most Kashmiris knew: that militants murdered Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq, father of the current Mirwaiz, and advocate Ghani Lone of the People’s Conference. Bhatt then questioned the relevance of UN resolutions, calling for a plebiscite. The Mirwaiz, too, suddenly discovered civic issues. From urging people to pay electricity bills on time to criticizing the Omar government for graft in central schemes like NREGA. 

Meanwhile, the Lone brothers are on a recruiting spree in North Kashmir, trying to revive the old cadre of their father’s People’s conference. This year has also been marked with skirmishes between the two factions of moderates, culminating in an attack on Shabir Shah by Mirwaiz’s supporters in the aftermath of the Dastgeer Shrine fire in Srinagar.