More heads usually means better decisions. When the Hurriyat leaders put theirs together after decades of separation, one thought this basic rule would apply. But as always the Hurriyat leaders proved themselves what they are: a massive disappointment. And these are no ordinary times we are talking about. At one end, the current times are nothing short of being cataclysmic. The State has dropped all its masks. The knives are out. Those who challenge the State’s position on the Kashmir dispute and its means of dealing with a defiant populace are in the line of State fire. They are summarily put out of currency. Figures of the past four months reveal a small part of this story. The real tragedy lies behind these statistics. The trail of death and destruction, mass injuries, mass blindings, mass detentions, torture, destruction of property and produce across towns and villages in an unprecedented sweep of repression establish one thing: the State policy of ‘settling’ Kashmir dispute is an all-out punitive military action to ‘straighten out’ an uncompromising population. It also aims at making the costs of resistance unbearable for the populace. Add to that the induction of 15,000 paramilitary troops and two army brigades in the past few months, the intent of this policy becomes clearer. Kashmir had already been smarting under the jackboot of over half a million troops and the total impunity enjoyed by them over the populace.
At another end, the present times represent something very different. Kashmir has just seen the biggest and most defiant pro-freedom public uprising since it was brought under Indian rule in 1947. This despite the relentless military battering of the past 27 years. The spread and intensity of this azadi uprising made even the Indian government feel it was staring down the precipice in Kashmir. That’s before it decided to drop all pretence and sink in its teeth in a full-spectrum retributive military crackdown.
It is in this context, we have the Hurriyat Conference, HC, that claims to ‘lead’ the freedom movement of seven million Kashmiris and whose movers and shakers call themselves ‘resistance leaders’. Hardly does it ever happen that leaders are presented with such sweeping public sentiment and the political opportunities of a mighty public campaign for freedom. And hardly does it happen that leaders display such a fantastic knack to fritter away the political gains waiting to be made out of such uprising.
Look at it from any angle, the HC doesn’t lead. It never has. It only follows. Whenever the streets heat up and the State begins its killing spree, the HC suddenly remembers its job. And that too only by riding the wave of anger of the street rather than by providing a cool-minded political direction. For all other times, when the real homework is to be done, it hibernates comforting itself in dormancy or State largesse behind an elaborate security bandobast provided by the very State they are fighting against. That is why it is seen as a mere impulsive reactive pressure outfit rather than a formidable pro-active resistance organisation. Even its reactive politics lack any sound thinking let alone any policy content.
The HC’s ‘men of wisdom’ mistake their inane press statements for policy. They think a freedom movement is only about slogans and stone-throwing, about issuing idiotic protest ‘calendars’ and giving calls for an endless cycle of self-harming hartals. Even if there is pressure from some quarters to continue the present round of strikes, genuine leadership warrants the HC should explain to these quarters the inefficacy of this strategy. But it seems these ‘men of wisdom’ are so obsessed with hartals that they can’t see the bare reality that hartals serve absolutely no purpose in advancing the political goals of the resistance. The cycle of strikes are actually alienating the people from the resistance movement because it only adds to their frustrations and privation. In such a scenario, those who accuse HC ‘leaders’ of aiding the occupation by their suicidal tactics aren’t entirely wrong.
The awed thinking of HC’s ‘men of wisdom’ that their calendar campaign will advance the goals of the azadi movement is costing Kashmir very dear at multiple levels. It is actually pushing the people closer to the occupation because it increases their dependence on the many arms of a State that is all too willing to co-opt.
The HC’s calendar politics has now become an ill-played tragicomedy nobody wants to neither laugh at nor cry at. Look at its method and language. The HC ‘men of wisdom’ issue these calendars from the safe environs of their secure homes literally asking the people to brave the violence of a predatory State. These calendars have an interesting language: march one and all. It is like some sadistic military commander ordering a captive people into the battle field to have them battered by a marauding army while himself sitting in the safety of his fort.
These ‘men of wisdom’ try to appropriate not only the language of the occupation but its means as well. The HC seems to be looking for a parallel administration — a de facto administration of sorts replacing the State’s coercive and hurtful means with its own. In the ‘90s militants literally held sway over Kashmir and tried to do the same thing of playing a de facto government. That entire movement failed because the militant leaders forgot their fundamental objective busying themselves instead with mimicking the government and micromanaging the lives of the people. The HC is already on a similar trajectory.
The current HC leaders’ capacity to deliver is now a settled matter. They just cannot whatever the circumstances — uprising or no uprising. They are incapable of leveraging a situation in favour of the resistance movement. They have proved it time and again since the HC’s inception in 1993. Twenty three years is a long time for a political organisation to fail a movement for which the people have rendered immense sacrifices. It just cannot be condoned off. The HC leaders’ failure is partly because they are inherently incompetent for the challenges and exigencies of such a delicate job. Two, they are a product, more precisely a by-product, of a failed armed movement of the ‘90s decade. So they are essentially driven by calls of their own political rehabilitation rather than the demands of a freedom movement. Three, they are unable to chart out a course independent of the influence of powerful agencies. It is all too well known that the State tolerates the HC men because they help it in managing the populace to the State’s favour. It was in full public display recently after Burhan Wani’s killing when the State and its military commanders were literally pleading the HC leaders to help restore what the State calls ‘peace’ and ‘normalcy’ — euphemisms for perpetuating a corrosive occupation. It is in situations like these where the HC men become ‘assets’ for the State, hence should be allowed to play ball.
What will hurt Kashmiris’ struggle for freedom big time and longterm is the HC’s appropriation of the resistance leadership and its hijacking of the serial public uprisings in Kashmir only to squander the gains made in the streets through its poor politics. This appropriation effectively blocks the emergence of a fresh, youthful and educated resistance leadership that knows the nuances of local and geopolitics, has workable strategies, is not confused about what azadi means and, above all, is incorruptible.
Look at the mishandling of the current pan-Kashmir public uprising. Instead of preserving the spirit and momentum of the resistance, these leaders’ methods and means ensure both — spirit and momentum — dissipate, all to the benefit of the occupation. It is safe then to ask: are they in league with the State to preserve the status quo which is where they derive their relevance (and many advantages as well) from?
These failings apart, the least the HC men can do in the present times is organise and provide some assistance, financial or otherwise, to those who have been injured, blinded or have been arrested and need legal aid or have lost their bread earners or their sustenance.
The HC runs the resistance movement like an agitation. An agitational campaign by its very nature is for short-term goals, developmental issues or grievance redressal. An independence movement runs on an entirely different dynamic. You do not put everything on the line all at the same time but move in incremental steps leveraging all available opportunities and creating new ones.
The Hurriyat Conference’s entire calculus of politics is geared towards a turf war against the government. It doesn’t seem that their strategies are aimed at a prolonged and arduous freedom struggle.
In the final analysis, given the HC’s unsustainable strategies and absolute lack of political acumen and vision, this pack of leaders cannot be seen separate from the architecture of occupation and its oppressive tools. They are a part of it — either by design or unwittingly. Their policies, or the lack of them, only help perpetuate and strengthen the occupation and its accompanying predation. What the wise men of the Hurriyat must realise is this: Kashmir’s freedom movement is not because of them, but in spite of them and their fabulous failures.