Hurriyat talk Between Abdullah and Jihad
8 April 2000
Srinagar: FAROOQ Abdullah government in Srinagar just about sums up the Union government’s political approach to Kashmiris. Democracy triumphs, the army takes care of the rest. This was considered inadequate by the local population as was demonstrated during the last general elections when the percentage of voters in the three district of Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla fell to 12, 14 and 28 respectively, from 35, 50 and 41 in 1996. The precipitous decline in participation in all Muslim majority assembly segments was despite the robust methods employed by the army to get voters to the polling booths. The Hurriyat was held responsible for sabotaging the elections, an accusation that may do them some credit in the eyes of the people of the valley, and the entire leadership was taken to Jodhpur jail where, Farooq hoped, they would stay and rot. It is easy to blame the Hurriyat: the people did not vote because, after having given three more years to Abdullah, they didn’t see the point. Hurriyat has clout in the valley, it does represent a substantial section of Kashmiri opinion and the fact that it stays out of normal political processes makes the idea of Indian democracy in Jammu and Kashmir less than perfect. But it is also certain that it benefits enormously every time the National Conference fails to deliver, which is often enough. Abdullah, meanwhile, has fished out his party’s autonomy agenda in the form of a report lying around for a year. He wants a return to the pre-1953 status. He understands that his collaboration with the Centre — without central assistance, Jammu and Kashmir would collapse — makes him look like a quisling and that may bother him. But he also knows that he is indispensable to India’s scheme of things. It also gives him a certain degree of leverage with the Centre. However, this exclusive reliance on the National Conference to push India’s case with the Kashmiris is not healthy for either side. It may short-circuit genuine democracy, leave too much power in Abdullah’s hands, perpetuate the military’s role and take no account of anything that militates against India’s presence in the valley. Releasing the Hurriyat leaders at this juncture restores the balance within Kashmiri politics. It is the only opposition that Abdullah knows and may be used to keep his aspirations — whatever they may be — in check. The other good reason for releasing them is that the non-mainstream voice which, in the vacuum that followed the arrests, may have been in danger of being adopted by fundamentalist mujahideen, will be brought back to relatively moderate forms of political expression. It is also a good thing to do on merits.