After being roasted for its mishandling of the 2016 uprising, the unified Hurriyat Conference seems to be facing an existential crisis. Despite all its flaws, the Hurriyat represents an important resistance political force in Kashmir. But whether united or separate, it has always appeared as an entity belabouredly struggling on in the rough and tumble of Kashmir’s overheated volatile politics. Now, recent happenings have pushed the Hurriyat close to the edge. There are a host of issues it’s currently smarting under. Its leadership betrays no impression, in word or deed, that the organisation can stand up to the crises it is getting sucked into. The ongoing crackdown on the Hurriyat leaders by the Government of India, GoI, is by far the gravest challenge the Hurriyat is facing. Some of its key members are already in custody on charges of receiving “illegal finances” and using it to create “disturbances” in Kashmir. Another of its top leader is doing time in custody for alleged money laundering. There are other cases being pursued against them relating to their assets, transactions and links with globally-designated terrorists. The Enforcement Directorate is also pursuing a case of alleged illegal possession of 10,000 dollars against Syed Ali Geelani. The GoI has clearly decided to end what was seen by some as soft-pedaling on the Hurriyat leaders as it delivers punch after punch on them. It has been an open secret that big-time money changes hands among the Hurriyat leaders at several levels. People don’t mind the fact that the Hurriyat is taking money from various sources. What they do mind is that the money doesn’t get to the thousands of victims of state violence but instead makes its way into private coffers.
It obviously would invite some criticism for GoI if it packs off the Hurriyat leaders just because of their political beliefs. So under the new policy, the GoI is saving itself some awkward blushes by bringing formal legal cases against the Hurriyat leaders, follow them up in courts and push for conviction.
At the moment, it is only the middle rung leaders and some family members being brought on the chopping board, but intentions suggest the top leaders may as well come under the knife. Prolonged custody and possible convictions would effectively put the Hurriyat leaders out of circulation. At least for now, the GoI’s thinking is that arduous court cases would keep the Hurriyat leaders busy, under pressure, away from creating ‘trouble’ and abetting public disturbances. The Hurriyat leaders seem to be lost even for a solid argument to defend themselves. They only crib that the GoI is targeting them which is what any State would do with people who espouse and practice a political ideology of resistance to the state’s rule. For long the Hurriyat leaders had been treated as a privileged class in the equation of Kashmir’s political struggle for the right of self-determination. Over the decades, the Hurriyat leaders have actually come to believe they indeed have an entitlement to privilege and hence should be treated softly while bearing the brunt of state repression is left for common people.
The other crisis confronting the Hurriyat is its credibility and competence to deliver in difficult times. Post-2016, the people have been increasingly seeing the Hurriyat’s politics and strategies as a waste of time. It has created a crisis of its own for the Hurriyat. And that is the Hurriyat’s relevance in the current set of conditions to Kashmir’s struggle for freedom. For most observers, the Hurriyat is a struggling lot which keeps itself in the game by issuing daily press notes and resorting to failed strategies of protest. For this, the Hurriyat can’t blame anyone else but itself. It has been sticking to adhocist measures which only exacerbate the common people’s troubles. It never came up with a long-term sustainable resistance strategy that goes beyond self-flagellation.
Interestingly, the GoI now sees the Hurriyat of little uses as it is openly following a robust and unforgiving military campaign to neutralise the resistance in Kashmir. The Mehbooba-led local government is more than willing to act as a cover and shock absorber for the GoI’s military campaign. This has further limited the Hurriyat’s leverage. Mehbooba Mufti’s deceptive calls to engage with the Hurriyat makes good headlines but truth is that the GoI has dumped the Hurriyat and is keen to see its back.
Among the common masses, the Hurriyat is losing face as well as support. Its strike calls are increasingly being ignored by the people because they know it doesn’t work. But the Hurriyat seems obsessed with its old script vainly hoping that will someday give different results.
An added factor in recent times has aggravated things for the Hurriyat. People, particularly in the countryside, are gravitating more towards supporting armed militants of various ideologies and their methods of armed struggle. That is further ebbing away whatever influence Hurriyat enjoyed.
To rub salt and pepper in the Hurriyat’s many wounds, Al Qaeda linked militant leader Zakir Musa has already called for the Hurriyat leaders’ heads. Zakir is reportedly fattening his militant numbers and his hotheads may well carry out this threat despite severe all round castigation for this when he first made the threat few months ago.
The Hurriyat’s worth in Kashmir’s resistance politics is grossly exaggerated. The resistance movement will still go on even if the Hurriyat is taken out of the equation. In that context of overestimation of the Hurriyat’s power to remote control Kashmir’s streets, the GoI is perhaps spending too much energy in choking the Hurriyat.
It would be a major loss if the Hurriyat goes from its current state of disarray into disintegration as its leaders are shut behind bars on various charges. It would have immensely served the Hurriyat and the resistance movement had the organisation groomed a second line of youthful, educated leaders to take on the reins of the movement in the coming decades. Unfortunately, the top Hurriyat leaders can hardly look beyond themselves and their bloated egos. What they don’t realise is that their support base has gradually been shrinking and public appeal waning. The Mirwaiz is hardly popular save some areas of downtown Srinagar. Yasin Malik’s sphere of influence is limited to Maisuma area. Syed Ali Geelani once gave the impression of commanding mass support but he frittered it all away and his image has suffered several serious dents. His recent tacit support of the PDP government over the GST issue has made even his close supporters suspicious of his politics. In fact, Geelani is increasingly turning his faction of the Hurriyat into a clan politics at the cost of wider interests of the movement.
If the Hurriyat genuinely believes in fighting for Kashmiri’s right of self-determination, it must begin cleaning up its house. It isn’t late despite all the troubles it is currently mired in. The Hurriyat in disarray and on the way to disintegration is ultimately Kashmir’s loss which it can ill afford when new methods of subjugation are being scripted and put to work in Kashmir.