Kashmir’s Hurriyat Conference, that is basically a conglomeration of outfits run by Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF supremo Yasin Malik, which unites in certain types of actions as it has done these days, is having to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. This extraordinary situation has obliged it to issue a call earlier this week to urge tourists and pilgrims to visit the beautiful Kashmir valley and assure them they will be completely safe.
The bizarreness of this situation is underlined by the fact that it continues to issue weekly protest calendars, whose aim is to curb everyday commercial and social activity, though exemptions are made from time to time. More and more people have begun to disregard the instructions and violations are consciously overlooked by Hurriyat bosses. This pattern of behaviour makes it plain to the secessionist leaders that people have had just about enough. Therefore it is now urging people to visit Kashmir, something which the secessionists haven’t done before, considering it to be the government’s job.
Five months have gone by since Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by J&K police on July 8. The spontaneous reaction in the first few days, which saw an outburst of protest, shook not just the government but also the Hurriyat, which reckoned that its leadership of controlling protests in Kashmir had come under open challenge from a new generation of youth, many of them without party tags.
Therefore, protest calendars began to be issued. The Pakistan factor also came in. The Hurriyat had to persuade Islamabad that its relevance had not altogether vanished, and it was still the only common and coherent platform of anti-India protest.
This is of course under challenge now. The key reason is that people have lost their livelihood completely in the past five months. The Valley relies almost exclusively on tourism, handicrafts and fruit-farming. These got disrupted in the Hurriyat-led protests.
If the Hurriyat hadn’t jumped in to underline its so-called legitimacy in the eyes of the people, it is likely that the spontaneous protest would have died down in the normal course and ordinary people would have returned to their everyday lives, though perhaps in a sullen and alienated frame of mind. But now the Hurriyat has to seek tourists so that some people in the Valley may benefit from the fruits of winter tourism. This cuts at its legitimacy.
The state government remained irrelevant for five months and real power swung to the Hurriyat. In light of that, the separatist bloc is now having to answer people’s questions. But New Delhi should do everything it can to engage with various sections of society to rebuild bridges.