Though Peoples Conference Chief Sajjad Gani Lone has not confirmed media reports of his participation in the Lok Sabha polls,the fact that he has not denied it either has created a flutter in Kashmir. Regardless of whether he ends up contesting the election,the significance of the reports lies in how the hitherto forbidden elections have entered the political discourse of the separatists.
What is even more of a novelty is the silence with which these rumours have been greeted by the various factions of the Hurriyat,particularly,Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani,who has rarely been charitable towards Lone.
The separatists choosing to ignore Lone can be broadly traced to the massive turnout in the Assembly elections in defiance of the Hurriyat boycott call which ended the amalgams temporary domination of the political discourse in the Valley. The marginalisation of the Hurriyat has only grown ever since.
From a resurgent coalition spearheading the raucous Azadi groundswell through summer last year,the separatist space is now conspicuous by its absence. The reasons are the unprecedented support for the elections as well as the absence of the major separatist leaders from the political scene.
n Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is considering enrolling in a one-year fellowship programme in conflict management and leadership at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. The only glitch is his impounded passport.
n The ailing Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani is in New Delhi for treatment and has no immediate plans to return to the Valley.
n JKLF supremo Yasin Malik is in Pakistan after his recent marriage to a Pakistani artist.
n Another prominent Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah continues to be behind bars on charges of instigating protests in Valley and leading a Srinagar-Muzaffarabad march last July which led to the death of seven persons including senior Hurriyat leader Shiekh Aziz.
n Shahidul Islam,a senior moderate Hurriyat leader and a close aide of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has quit politics.
On the other hand,the Hurriyat Coordination Committee which symbolised a loose accord between the two Hurriyat factions and the other major leaders outside the Hurriyat fold is all but defunct. The Coordination Committee,which counts as its members the diverse separatist groups,was formed last year to work out an elaborate protest programme. While its calls for protest marches met with an enthusiastic response initially,it failed to stem the tide in favour of the elections during the first phase of Assembly elections when people in the militant stronghold of Bandipore turned out overwhelmingly to vote.
The failure of the Committee has deprived the separatists of a platform to forge a joint strategy for the secessionist cause. Moreover,with hardly any contact between the rival Hurriyat factions,all talks of a merger are on hold and the divide seems to have deepened.
The divergence in their approach had become apparent during the elections itself when despite committing themselves to a boycott campaign,the moderate faction had stopped short of addressing the public to further the boycott. Except for the customary Friday sermon,Mirwaiz did not come out to address a single boycott rally in the Valley triggering murmurs of dissent from the hawks led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The moderates on their part voiced their foremost concern about a possible merger with the hawks at a Hurriyat executive council meeting held soon after polls: Geelanis domination of the Hurriyat agenda.