On 5 August, 2019, hours before the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced its decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcate it into two Union Territories, a number of the Valley’s mainstream leaders were taken into preventative custody. Later, some were detained under the the Public Safety Act (PSA).
But despite many mainstream politicos recently being released (with the notable exception of Mehbooba Mufti) and doing the media rounds, none of them has publicly called for restoring Article 370. Their silence has not gone unnoticed.
“The Indian government has resumed the process of putting messages across through its followers whose ideology and conviction will never change despite humiliating them in public circles,” one journalist, who did not wish to be named, stated. “India has kept its trump cards ready to quell resistance and reduce the pressure from the international community, which has raised alarm about the potential human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. A new generation of mainstream leaders is being groomed to run the political show for the next century.”
It may matter little how much the words of the pro-India Kashmiri leaders move rest of India, but special attention must be paid to what the 12 million people of Jammu and Kashmir think.
Hafeez-ud-Din, a longtime National Conference activist and staunch supporter of Omar Abdullah, speaking of party leadership said a few months ago, “Let them release Farooq and Omar. If we don’t shake the walls of Parliament, I’ll change my name.”
Omar, who was released from detention on 24 March, recently penned a column in Indian Express saying he would not contest elections until full statehood is restored.
Omar, who has been taking heat from both his party workers and other politicos in the Valley for diluting the demand to restore Article 370, later clarified that he and his party would challenge the revocation of Article 370 in court.
At the mention of Omar and his recent column, Hafeez-ud-Din remained silent for a moment. “In exchange for their release, our leaders have reiterated their commitment to strengthen the Hindutva mission in Kashmir. It is not the fault of those who repeatedly sell their faith, conscience and honour, but those of us that have become committed sinners by following them and their plans.”
“We have to atone for our sins, and then devise a strategy to fight our own battle. We relied on India at the behest of our leadership. In return, they stabbed us in 1947 and they are doing so again and again.”
A question on whether he’d consider joining the Hurriyat drew an angry response. “Whom would I follow in the Hurriyat? Who is the genuine article? Mr Syed Ali Shah Geelani, on whom the Pakistani establishment bestowed their Nishan-e-Imtiaz? Does Mr Geelani, or any other Hurriyat leader, even know who gives a statement on their behalf or where it comes from?”
“Kashmir is leaderless and directionless. We have only the Almighty and then a few remote controls, including China. We have to learn how to navigate our own struggle, which might be a long and grueling journey but at least there will be no fear of disgrace and disregard. The spirit of freedom is our stimulus and we will continue our struggle in the same gusto,” an overwhelmed Hafeez-ud-Din said before breaking down.
The pro-India Kashmiri leaders also have to be disheartened about the lack of protests against their detention (other than a small section of loyalists). Instead, most on social media argued that Kashmiris wanted independence and not the restoration of Article 370, which was the baby of the political mainstream and his little resonance for the majority.
Pro-India leaders have often accused the Hurriyat as being the cause of the agitation and insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. As the Hurriyat leadership has been in jail or under house arrest for the past few years, some of the common people who consider themselves activists of the ‘freedom movement’ have resorted to strikes and protests.
This is a reality that the mainstream leadership — which has tried every tactic ostensibly at the direction of New Delhi (see Afzal Guru), to stymie the ‘freedom’ camp — has denied.
Note how not a single leader has mentioned the case of jailed separatist Yasin Malik or his deteriorating health.
Ghaffar Ansari, a Pattan resident, said, “If the pro-India leaders want to complain, they should complain to their ‘masters in Delhi’ and not those deprived due to political gambling since the Partition.”
According to well-known international historian and journalist Peter Hanridge, “There are only two options left for Kashmiris: fight for total independence or integrate fully with India like the rest of the states. Any leader who talks of restoration of statehood, Article 370 or 35A is playing political gimmicks with poor people again. There is no middle ground left. Kashmiris must unite and reject such political sell-outs or risk ceding power to such individuals and their descendants for the next hundred years in exchange for hollow slogans.”