Updated: August 24, 2021 8:03:19 am
The reported plan to ban both factions of the All Party Hurriyat Conference under provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) will go down as another ill-judged step by the Centre in Jammu & Kashmir. It comes at a time when the main imperative in J&K is restarting the political process and piercing the vacuum created since the abrogation of Article 370 and division of the state into two Union Territories. In any case, a ban is never a good idea. It drives the sentiment underground, where it grows under the radar, and can surface more powerfully than before. The Hurriyat is also a spent force. That much was clear from its inability or unwillingness or both to protest the August 2019 changes made by the Centre in J&K.
The Hurriyat is no monolith and the churn within has often risen to the fore. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, among the founding leaders of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, and until last year, head of the hardline pro-Pakistan faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, is ailing and bedridden. His resignation from the chairmanship in June 2020 came in the wake of a bitter power struggle between him and the PoK chapter of the Hurriyat, going back to 2018 over the alleged sale of seats in Pakistani medical colleges to Kashmiri students. Geelani replaced the convenor in PoK, and handpicked his successor, who in turn was ejected by the Pakistani security establishment for not falling in line. It was soon after this that Geelani stepped down, saying that the PoK chapter had become corrupt, more interested in cosying up to the powers that be. Other hardliners in the Geelani Hurriyat are in jail. The moderate faction of the Hurriyat, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was seen by the establishments in both India and Pakistan to be in a position to win support in Kashmir for the bilateral peace process that began in 2003. That was a moment to build on, for the Indian state to bring into play, once again, its famed ability to turn rebels into stakeholders. But that skill, encouraged by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, seems to have been replaced now with a take-no-prisoners approach and a preference for blunt instruments like the UAPA. The Modi government’s refusal to recognise the moderates among the separatists had led to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, for instance, joining hands with Geelani during the 2016 agitation in Kashmir.
What could be the purpose, then, of banning these two inactive organisations, in which even Pakistan has lost interest, unless it is to give the impression that the government has a larger plan for the Valley, of which there has been little or no visible sign thus far. Banning the Hurriyat may help the government score some points outside Kashmir. But those toying with a ban on Hurriyat should be paying more attention to Kashmir’s proximity to what is unfolding in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s involvement in it. A revival of the political process with mainstream parties should be at the very top of the agenda in Delhi now.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 24, 2021 under the title ‘Ban is a bad idea’.
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