Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is Hurriyat a Political organization or a Debating Showcase?

Two local commentators on the value of "Forum Politics" practised by the Hurriyat

(Mr. Zahid G. Mohammad, 61, was born and raised in Srinagar. He earned his Master's degree in English literature from the Kashmir University and has completed a course in Mass Communication from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is a writer and a journalist who has written for many newspapers, including the Statesman, the Sunday, and the Kashmir Times. He currently works for the Greater Kashmir.)

Debate within APHC

Srinagar is quiet. Like kindergarten students political leaders have put fingers on their lips. Some have retreated to their ancestral villages. The political roars have muffled. Many a discourse, both invented and genuine, that engaged academia have evaporated. There is no autonomy talk. There is no ‘self-rule’ drum beating. The four-point formula rhetoric also has died down. The rat race among the press note organizations for finding themselves in print has ended. The vying for issuing statements on incidents amongst the Hurriyat constituents has slowed down.

Is this magic spell of the much trumpeted word “QUIET” that had generated heat in the benumbed Oct-Dec 2009 political scene that has taken wind out of the sails of Kashmiri leaders? I don’t know if some political leaders have become silent for their belief in the adage, ‘sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself’ or for their belief in the Latin proverb, ‘Keep quiet and people will think you a philosopher.’ I don’t know about majority of other parties but I am told that the ‘quiet’ has put the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (M) in a contemplative mood. It has been doing some introspection. It is thinking of shedding words like ‘conglomerate’, ‘umbrella’ ‘multi-party combine and ‘all parties’ suffixed or prefixed with its name. And instead of ‘All Parties’ it wants to prefix ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ with its name. It is debating over naming itself as the Jammu and Kashmir Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference. I am told that lot in the conglomerate are eager to see the party come up like a real political organization with a well defined organizational hierarchy and clear objectives.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference despite suffering defections and a vertical split is the longest surviving political forum in the state. The idea of founding a state level organization for leading a political movement was born in 1932. Notwithstanding that Muslim Students Federation can be credited for being the first organization that raised its voice against the political, economic and religious discrimination committed against the Muslims of the state during the autocratic rule, the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference with Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah as its President and Chowdary Ghulam Abbass as its General Secretary was the first mass based state level organization. The organization suffered a split in 1938 with Sheikh Abdullah launching the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. Seen in right perspective the contemporary history of the state is woven around the ideologies professed by the two organizations. I see the Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite Front, despite its leaders having their roots in the National Conference more as a manifestation of the Muslim Conference politics than that of the National Conference- it is a different debate that I will not be touching here.

The institution of political organization with all its setbacks struck its roots in the state and many a political party with different ideologies were born. The concept of the multi-party combine or the ‘forum’ leading a political movement in the state was born with the birth of the All Parties Action Committee during the Holy Relic Movement of 1964. But this combine that led the movement for the restoration of the holy relic very successfully, suffered immediate erosion after it adopted resolution for launching an organized struggle for right to self-determination. The organization fragmented and ended up in the birth of another organization, the Jammu and Kashmir Awami Action Committee. In 1975, after Sheikh Abdullah, under an agreement, was elected leader of the State Legislature by the Pradesh Congress Party another effort for launching an All Parties Organization was made. But it failed to come up with most of its constituents either joining the local unit of the Janta Party or supporting it. The second major combine of the political organization was the Muslim United Front (MUF). The Front born in 1986 died its own death after the 1987 elections. Let me reiterate that the APHC born in 1993 with all its inherent ideological contradictions is the longest surviving political forum in the state. How successful, is a matter of debate.

The ‘quiet’ word has mysteriously ‘swirled’ this organization. There is rebellion within, which has set it to debating. The debate is about the seventeen years ‘forum’ politics- achievements and failures. The forum does not have much to its credit- it cannot be credited with having led any movement that would go in history as something big. It initiated dialogues with New Delhi and Islamabad but could not prepare even draft for deliberations. It suffered for its concept of collective leadership even to live steadfastly up to its own political programs. The party decided to boycott the 1996 and 2002 election but for divided opinion on this simple political slogan, it brought one after another cracks within its own ranks.

Now when the voices for one party, one ideology and one goal are becoming shriller and shriller the question arises that can this multiparty combine model itself on the old Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference or the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference so far as organizational set ups are concerned or it resurrects the constitution of the Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite Front from archives to provided an organizational structure to the new dispensation.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference when looked through its constitution is not only a combine of diverse parties and individuals but also a compendium of compromise. The Constitution of the APHC when compared to many other organizations that have had a part in the political movements of the state suffers from both clarity and ideological fidelity. Not to speak of the major political parties like the Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite Front or the Jammu Kashmir Awami Action Committee (1964), the Jamaat-e-Islamia, Jammu and Kashmir, even the constitutions of the student’s organizations like the Jammu and Kashmir Students and Youth League and the Jammu and Kashmir Youngmen’s League and Student Federation were ideologically clearer than that of the conglomerate. The League constitution had set its objective as: ‘It is a League of students and intellectuals struggling for the basic right, the right of self-determination. The first and foremost aim of the League is to end the uncertainty of the State’s future and secure for five million people of the State, the right to self-determination. We demand a free and impartial Plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations.’ (Published in 1964 at Mazdoor Printing Press, Srinagar). The constitution of Jammu and Kashmir Youngmen’s League, Students Federation brought by its President Abdul Rashid Dar (Later Chairman Legislative Council) on 13 July 1969 and Published at New Kashmir Press, in its objective said, ‘The League would take legitimate steps …for achieving the objective of deciding the future of the state through an impartial plebiscite.’

The APHC constitution by all stretch of imagination is not democratic. It is elitist with all powers vested in the Executive. It does not provide any elaborate mechanism for strengthening the inner party democracy. There is no concept of grassroots level in this organization- it does not believe in the concept of basic units as believed by the predecessor party espousing the cause of right to self-determination, the Plebiscite Front. In this organization ‘the basic members constituted the electorate college. The constitution called for setting up of basic committees, the halaqa committee, tehsil committee, district committee, provincial committee and central committee. It was quite elaborate on the creation of these committees. The party constitution provided election of one delegate for one thousand people holding party membership. The elected would become the member of the party general council. The general council members would elect one of the delegates as party president. The president would nominate the members of the central committee. The central committee would get automatically dissolved on the next election. The central committee would consist of minimum fifteen and maximum twenty five members. The constitution provided an organizational set up to the basic level and identified the role from basic committee to the central committee.’

In the hush-hush working of the conglomerate it would be difficult where the inner party debate will lead to but it needs to be understood that the ‘forum’ politics for its inherent contradictions will continue to be an impediment in any way forward- even initiating or joining a dialogue with New Delhi and Islamabad.

Hurriyat: Losing Ground

Riyaz Ahmad (Greater Kashmir)

After a deafening buzz over the silence of the quiet dialogue with New Delhi, Hurriyat has gone actually silent. And this silence is deafeningly quiet. It was all OK, if it was just an ordinary phase in Hurriyat’s political calendar. But the fact is that it isn’t. Hurriyat’s current silence hides a larger separatist crisis in the state: their slow descent into political irrelevance in the Valley. And the separatists have themselves to blame for it.

Hurriyat may be important to the efforts for the resolution of Kashmir, but the alliance seems to be increasingly losing touch with the masses in Valley. It seems ages since Hurriyat held a public meeting or for that matter a seminar to maintain a direct channel of contact with the people. And what is more, nobody in the moderate separatist faction is bothered about this.

Though Hurriyat has always been plagued by the lack of a vibrant public contact programme, the drawback has become only more pronounced over the past one year. There has been a surprising tendency to avoid going to people, even on matters of the most urgent political nature. The entire Hurriyat business is transacted between the amalgam’s headquarters at Rajbagh and the chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s residence at Hazratbal – a distance of less than ten kilometres. And this business doesn’t go beyond occasional meetings of the 8-member Hurriyat executive and its more than a score constituent groups.

It’s not that there have never been efforts to mobilize people on separatist issues. In fact, there have been many. In 2007, Hurriyat embarked on a mass contact programme which included organizing public meetings across the Valley and even making some forays into Jammu. For the first time since its formation, and under increasing pressure to prove its representational claims, Hurriyat made moves to build an actual ground level support. The alliance started holding delegate level sessions in every district in a conscious "effort to connect with the grassroots". It was an attempt, in the words of Mirwaiz, to return the separatist movement to its moorings in the aspirations of the people.

The initiative which was titled People Contact Programme had come as a radical departure from the Hurriyat’s approach to mass politics in its struggle for Kashmir’s freedom. Despite its claim of being in the vanguard of the Azadi campaign, Hurriyat has never modeled itself along the lines of a mass-based political party. Hurriyat, its former Chairman and executive member Abdul Ghani Bhat says represents "the anger, the alienation and the separatist sentiment of Kashmiris". Such a stand takes people’s support for granted and makes Hurriyat, in absolute terms, a kind of spiritual representative of the ongoing struggle. Besides, the stance does not afford any room to any fear of an electoral contest in future. The conglomerate expects a "resurgent public wave" in its favour in case its mass base is put to test. But there is a condition: the elections should be for the resolution of Kashmir.

However, the campaign soon petered out after running for several months with public meetings and the delegate sessions going hand-in-hand. Hurriyat even recruited office bearers and the ground level workers in the various parts of the Valley. Mirwaiz himself addressed several largely attended rallies in some districts and went across to rally people in Jammu. But then it all stopped. Hurriyat went back into its shell, coming out once a year to organize a public programme on May 21, the occasion of the death anniversaries of Molvi Umar Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone. There has been little effort to change this political outlook, which seems to have developed into an eternal habit.

Of course, there have been event-driven plunges into the mass politics like in the 2008 Amarnath land row, when moderates together with their hawkish counterparts and the separatists outside Hurriyat fold like Yasin Malik suddenly hurtled back to the political centre stage. Lording over the gatherings of the tens and thousands of people, and the surging processions through the Valley’s streets, Hurriyat firmly regained its political foothold in Valley. But it was a short-lived phenomenon. The assembly elections that followed it turned everything upside down. The droves of people queuing up at the polling booths undid in one fell stroke the gains of summer revolt and unceremoniously pushed moderates back to the margins of the political discourse, hawks included. And that was that. From a resurgent coalition spearheading a raucous Azadi groundswell, the separatist space is now conspicuous by its absence. The marginalization of the Hurriyat has only grown by the day.

It looks now odd that Hurriyat continues to hog the headlines even while it commands a support base which appears increasingly amorphous. The irony of the situation has been more stark over the past some months during which moderates have been part of a quiet process with New Delhi to resolve Kashmir. The dialogue has been secretive, and clinically insulated from the people on whose behalf it is supposed to be conducted. This is why it is beginning to be seen as an engagement between few individuals rather than a serious effort to arrive at an agreement on the state.

The objection is not to the “quietness” of the talks but to the way these are being held without the confidence of the people of Kashmir. While home minister P Chidambaram publicly announces the initiation of the quiet dialogue with various shades of opinion in Kashmir, Hurriyat has chosen to be secretive about it. So much so, that even among moderates only a few people are in the loop over the issue. Is Hurriyat entering a shell within a shell? The bottomline is that wittingly or unwittingly, Hurriyat has chosen to operate in a political vacuum. A vacuum that might give it a bit more maneuvering space in talks but will severely limit its political shelf life. Kashmir has already witnessed a fresh resurgence of the mainstream political parties, some of whose rhetoric even beginning to resonate with large sections of population. Hawkish separatists have even created their own niche space. But the moderates who have otherwise been in the thick of the action for their role in the efforts to settle the larger Kashmir question and for their good equation with New Delhi and Islamabad, are losing the support on the ground in Valley. They seem to have reduced themselves to mere symbolic representations of the Azadi aspirations rather than be a vibrant mass-based entity which alone will give it the political leverage within and outside the state. They seem to depend on sensational chance events to make them relevant rather than work through the routine and be a part of the process. Isn’t it time that moderates pause and think? Isn’t it time that they realize that while dialogue with New Delhi might win them headlines, they need to get down and dirty for their long term political survival.

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