A new song for our time

  • Zahir-ud-Din
  • Publish Date: Feb 10 2016 3:40PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Feb 15 2016 3:33PM
A new song for our time

hen called upon by their leaders to make sacrifices for the cause of freedom, the people of Kashmir didn’t hold back. Indeed, such was their fervour that the leaders, and the people themselves, felt Azadi was within reach.
Twenty six years on, the people find themselves on the witness stand, accused of failing their leadership.
How did it come to this?
Are the people indeed to blame or is it the leadership that belongs in the dock? What exactly do the leaders expect from the people? What are the expectations of the masses?
All these questions inevitably lead to this haunting thought: what have Kashmiris, people and leaders, achieved in the past 26 years?
If the answer isn’t quite clear, we need to introspect why. We need to revise the strategy to put the movement back on track. That would require changes in attitudes and outlook of the people and, more importantly, the leadership.
For a start, the leaders must bring more transparency to their dealings. The people, on the other hand, must show greater respect for the leaders.

Ensure greater transparency
In revolutionary politics, the leadership must be transparent. There is no scope for secret diplomacy. It’s a lesson we had to learn the hard way: while Sheikh Abdullah was assuring the people that a decision on Kashmir’s future would not be taken without their consent, his trusted lieutenant Mirza Afzal Beg was engaged in secret talks with G. Parthasarthy. For from being consulted, the people weren’t given even an inkling of what was going on. They were shocked when All India Radio announced the Indira-Abdullah accord. And when some of them protested, they were promptly jailed.
Not that the current leaders of the movement shouldn’t talk with people of different persuasions. They can’t live in isolation. There’s absolutely no harm in meeting politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats and civil society workers. But why meet secretly? No sensible person would question the leaders for meeting with such people if they do so openly, and apprise the people of the developments later. Only when the leaders hold secret meetings and conceal vital information that could potentially affect the future of millions of people does the process become fishy, and filthy as well.
When the leaders resort to secret diplomacy, they give the people – who are, as they say, once bitten twice shy – reason to suspect them. They can’t impose their views and decisions on the people. Quite the contrary: they must consult the people and represent their aspirations.
Of course, leaders are human beings and they make mistakes like everybody else. But a good leader accepts his mistakes and rectifies them.
The people have every right to know what their leaders are up to, especially when it concerns their fate. If a leader has met somebody, he should reveal it and tell the people what was discussed. This way of involving the people in the decision-making process can yield very good results.
Responding to an article on secret diplomacy, a leader argued that transparency in talks would “cause miscarriage of the resolution process”. But if anything, the 1975 accord was a treatise on how secret parleys can bring a movement crashing down.

Lay out clear goals
Any movement must be clear about its goals, short- and long-term. Here, there are lessons to be learnt from the agitations of 2008 and 2010.
The leadership has to understand the difference between movement and agitation. The movement must continue until its logical end, but the agitation has to end as soon as the short-term goal is achieved. The Amarnath land row stir, the Dogra certificate issue, the demand for enquiry commissions were all short-term goals and there was no need to “set ablaze the boats” for achieving them.
Any movement’s ultimate goal can’t be achieved overnight. India won her freedom after over a century of organised struggle. Nelson Mandela had to endure prison for decades to end apartheid in South Africa. Often, to attain the goal, the strategy has to change with the changing times. However, the ultimate goal can’t change. If it does, what would be left there to strive for?
In 2010, during that summer’s agitation, the Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani remarked that he had burned his boats and there was no going back; essentially, that the agitation would continue till India granted Kashmiris the right to self-determination. Although many people tried to convince him that the agitation could not continue till Azadiwas won, he wasn’t ready to listen. Of course, what followed – loss of innocent lives and meagre livelihoods, state repression – is well known and Geelani has since admitted his mistake. It wasn’t just the way the agitations of 2008 and 2010 were organised and led that disappointed the people but also how they were withdrawn.
To achieve the ultimate objective, the leaders must prepare themselves and the people for a prolonged struggle. There are no shortcuts to freedom.

Deepen connect with people
A deep disconnect has developed between the people and the leadership over the past few years. The JKLF chairman Yasin Malik is the only leader to have reached out to the common Kashmiri folk, twice, in the recent past – through the Signature Campaign and Safr-e-Azadi. Other leaders have mostly stayed in their houses and offices.
Of course, the leaders are regularly house arrested, but that isn’t excuse enough. How often do the leaders put under house arrest show defiance, come out and get arrested. In fact, it’s whispered among those in the know, that certain leaders themselves call the police to detain them. Such leaders will do the movement a great favour if they close their “shops”.
A leader has to be accessible to the people all the time, to guide and encourage them. A poll boycott campaign, for instance, can’t succeed if proper groundwork isn’t not done. People in north Kashmir who voted in large numbers in the 2014 assembly election, told journalists that nobody from the Hurriyat had visited them and explained the boycott call.
There is an urgent need to constitute units at the mohalla level. In Srinagar, the people-leader disconnect has limited the movement to five police station areas in old city and one in uptown. This state easily foils demonstrations by imposing restrictions in these areas.
The Plebiscite Front was far better organised. It had units across the valley. Its workers were dedicated and well-connected with the leadership although they lacked cell phones and internet. The leaders must go to each and every locality, talk to the people, listen to their concerns and ask for suggestions. This will get common people more involved in the struggle.
One-man groups must merge into bigger organisations. Former JKLF leader Javed Mir once remarked that the movement was led by 105 chairpersons and as many general secretaries. By joining forces, the various groups can spare themselves and the people much confusion.

Seek alternatives to hartal
A movement, by its very definition, has to be ever evolving – in ideas, strategies. Predictability is its death. In Kashmir, the state has choked the democratic space so much that the pro-freedom leadership has to resort to strikes quite frequently. Strike, or hartal as we call it, is an effective tool of protest, indeed dissent. But that does not mean other options of protest should not be explored. Revolutionary politics has employed both Gandhi and Jinnah. Where peaceful protest does not work, there is Jinnah’s “Direct Action”. Yasin Malik has already warned of a massive rebellion, likely armed.
The 1960s Algerian war cry, did wonders to the psychology of the country’s oppressed people. It conveyed, in one forceful breath, their willingness to fight till victory. Let us have our own war cry.
In 1990, the cry of Oye Oye from the Bollywood flick Tridev, proved handy in mobilising people in Batmaloo area of Srinagar, apart from being used to hoot at the armed forces.
Devising ingenious ways of protest has deep roots in our culture. Kashmiris expressed revulsion at the Mughal rule by coining terms like Shikas Moghul, Poge Moghul. In recent times, the Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir event organised by the civil society to counter Zubin Mehta’s concert in 2013 proved quite effective.

Work to build trust
The slain Hurriyat elder Abdul Gani Lone once remarked, only half in jest, that Kashmiris never believe Doordarshan and All India Radio except when they say the Hurriyat leaders are making money.
It was Sheikh Abdullah who supposedly pioneered the tactic of discrediting opponents by calling them IB agents. The “sickness of suspicion” he sowed has yet to be cured: almost every second leader is labelled an “IB agent” and roundly condemned. The mistrust has not only harmed the movement but our personal relations as well. We must learn to trust each other. It doesn’t reflect well on us or the movement to discredit leaders on hearsay. As long as a leader is upright, he deserves our respect.
The leaders, on their part, have to bear in mind that they are dealing with “lesser mortals”. In the battle of Uhud, the prophet was left behind by his pious companions; he had a narrow escape. If they could be in such great error, what of ordinary people?
At times, people act on their own and take the leaders by surprise. In 2008, the leaders laid the necessary groundwork and the people came out on the streets en masse for the first time in nearly 20 years. But the 2010 agitation erupted spontaneously on January 31 with the killing of the young Wamiq Farooq. Many top leaders, including Geelani and Masarat Alam, were in jail then. By the time they were released in June, the first phase of the agitation was already on. Did the leaders thank the people for taking the initiative?

Improve the lot of widows, orphans
Thousands of women have been widowed and children orphaned over the past 26 years. Most have been left to fend for themselves, while others live on charity. The leadership and the civil society have failed miserably in their duty to provide succor to them. Charity won’t suffice. What’s needed is some sort of a social entrepreneurship programme to provide the widows and the orphans livelihood projects to earn a dignified living. The experts can show how this may be done provided somebody takes the initiative.

Other measures
The resistance leadership must stay tuned to issues like the abrogation of Article 370, Article 35-A, beef ban, settlement of West Pakistan refugees, return and rehabilitation of migrant Pandits. These issues can, in fact, be entrusted to the civil society. Ignoring them can be suicidal.
The leadership has held talks with leaders from India and Pakistan several times. One such exercise boiled down to the release of political prisoners. Two prisoners were released, one of them was involved in a sex scandal.
According to the former RAW chief AS Dulat, the leaders did not speak when invited for talks by the Indian government. They remained silent.
Yasin Malik has said dialogue with India, whenever held, shall be entrusted to civil society members. He has even identified the persons. Some of them are reputed lawyers but they would do well to learn the art of negotiation. For Kashmir desperately needs capable negotiators who can articulate its aspirations, and its frustrations.