Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022

'Modi Is Not The Vajpayee We Were Looking For'

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of Hurriyat Conference on militancy and the proposed talks between the NSAs of India and Pakistan.

'Modi Is Not The Vajpayee We Were Looking For'
| File - PTI Photo/ Kamal Kishore
'Modi Is Not The Vajpayee We Were Looking For'

With a sharp spike in militancy and cross border terror, the proposed talks between the NSAs of India and Pakistan have acquired a new urgency. In the Valley, there are mixed reactions among separatist leaders. Bula Devi recently spoke with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who heads one of the key factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

Is there apprehension after the BJP came to power?

In Kashmir, there is a fear which was not there before. The general fear is of a Hindutva agenda, a hidden approach. When the RSS talks about cultural and political assimilation, there is fear. There is concern that this BJP is not the BJP of the Vajpayee era, where there was talk of humanity. Kashmiris realise that Modi has a vision for India — an economic vision, a political vision — but they are not sure where Kashmir stands in that vision, or for that matter where do the neighbours and South Asia stand? There are also reports of some agencies trying to exploit the religious divide between Bareilvis, Deobandis, Ahle Hadith and Shias. A dangerous situation could develop if somebody tries to fiddle with the structure of the state.

Don't you think a lot depends on the neighbour's approach?

As someone said, a politician's eyes are always on the next election but a statesman looks at the next generation and the key lies here. Therefore, the Indian and Pakistan leadership need to come out of the election-oriented approach.

Frankly, I belong to the Kashmiri Sufi thought, the traditional Islamic values and all, but even those are being challenged. There is a resurgence in the thinking of the youth. Young boys of 12 or15 years raising ISIS flags doesn't mean much but I think boys from very good family backgrounds, great academic records are joining militancy in a big way and that definitely indicates a change. To be honest it reflects our failure also.

Who do you mean by "our"?

I mean failure of the leadership, I would primarily say the pro-freedom movement leadership. We want to keep this movement political and peaceful. There is a debate that the Hurriyat has failed. Twenty-five years have passed, there is no forward movement, no dialogue has yielded anything. Therefore, the debate is why look at and waste time on something that has not really taken off. So they say neither (Syed Ali Shah) Geelani nor Mirwaiz nor Yasin (Malik) are going to deliver, they are not going to do anything and the Indian government is not going to address and accept the language of reason and peace. What is the option then?

It is in this milieu that this trend has started about boys from academically and financially sound background joining militancy. This is going to change the discourse in the next 10 years. It is the most dangerous sign.

Can you explain a bit more?

Faith in us has gradually declined so whatever little influence I have today will be difficult to preserve. I won't have any control over the situation and that will be a big challenge for us also. Maybe this situation suits some people because there is a perception in Kashmir that for the Indian government, violence is a more viable option. There is then a justification for the Army and its troops and black laws.

Perhaps we, Kashmiris and pro-separatists, are also at fault as we have failed to reach out to constituencies in India and explain our point of view. But unfortunately wherever we go we are attacked.

Do you think Modi is heading in the right direction? He has resumed talks with Pakistan.

My point was more political. When Modi came to power I was one of the few who was sure that he would tread the Vajpayee path, especially because we had seen 10 years of UPA when they didn't do anything and time was wasted. But there is scepticism now with Modi too. Now people are saying that Modi is not the Vajpayee that we were looking for. But, after speaking to the Pakistan High Commissioner it seems the initiative to reach out to the Pakistani side in Ufa, Russia, was from Modi. It is good that India-Pakistan talks are happening but what about a dialogue with the Kashmiris? There doesn't seem to be a realisation or concern or urge to reach out to the people of Kashmir. I believe that they have to happen simultaneously and we have seen this happening during Vajpayee's time.

Whenever we are in Delhi to meet the Pakistanis we are dubbed the spoilers. I disagree with this because we are there to contribute.

Modi came a couple of times but he avoided the political issue. People say there is no political message in Modi's outreach to the Kashmiris.

The Hurriyat, the PDP and the NC are saying the same thing: of separating aspirations from grievances. We want better roads, better health care and an accountable government but those are grievances. Apart from grievances, people have aspirations but the problem is New Delhi mixes them. They are willing to address the grievances but not the aspirational aspect of the Kashmir problem. There is consensus in Kashmir that a political process is needed so the ball is in New Delhi's court, they have to decide what initiative to take.

Did Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif talk about Kashmir when they met in Russia recently?

When I met the Pakistan High Commissioner for Iftaar in Delhi, I was given the impression that the two did talk about Kashmir although they did not mention Kashmir in the joint statement.


Probably they came to the understanding of exploring back channel avenues to discuss the more contentious issues and then move on gradually, step by step.

Does that give a sense of relief to Kashmiris?

It's not a bad idea as long as there is seriousness and willingness to move forward even if it is official back channel; maybe it's not that bad to be away from the media, maybe they can get some work done.

What role has the separatists played in the religious polarisation in the State?

Separatists cannot be blamed for this, instead the mainstream parties are to be blamed. It is the pro-freedom parties, or Hurriyat, which wants to maintain bonhomie, harmony and brotherhood in the State. But the way electoral politics is unfolding, it is scary.

Now the divide between Jammu and Kashmir is everywhere. If you give something to Kashmir, you have to give the exact amount to Jammu. If you are making a 4x4 bathroom in Kashmir, a 4x3 bathroom for Jammu is unacceptable. Noises have been raised over setting up of AIIMS in Kashmir and not in Jammu, or setting up IITs in Jammu and not in Kashmir. I don't see these arguments and counter arguments as a healthy sign. There is a fear that we are probably heading for a division.

What is the stand of the Hurriyat?

In the Hurriyat, some people are of the opinion that we should call a spade a spade. They say why should we care about Jammu or Ladakh, let us address those where there is resistance, where they are saying hamare saath masla hal karo, like Muslim areas in Jammu. But if a solution is found along religious lines then it defeats the very purpose of Kashmir as an entity. The struggle to dismantle the line of control with Pakistan so that families are united is defeated.

There is a human dimension also in this conflict. My heart would like all the regions to be part of the overall solution, an overall mechanism. But I think the voices that say that the divide between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is not going to be bridged are getting clearer and louder. Historically we know Gulab Singh brought together people but there was no bonding between the regions as such. But I still strongly feel that whatever be the discourse, it is better to have Jammu as well as Ladakh, there will be cultural diversity and, I feel, whatever be the solution all regions will gain in the long term culturally, economically and internationally.

As a religious leader, what is that you fear the most?

See this is the age of the internet and You tube so whatever one wants to listen to one can, including religious thoughts and interpretation. Everybody also has an opinion today. It is not like earlier times when people used to come to the mosque, listen to the sermon and then form an opinion. The exposure is so vast and in a conflict situation, this can be very dangerous.

On the ground extremist opinion is getting stronger and Sufi Kashmiri thoughts getting weaker. The Kashmiri ethos is losing its shine and this is a matter of concern. We need to preserve our identity and culture and this is where the Indian state also has to decide.

I hope the government will not see this from a political angle but from a social angle. If something happens in Kashmir and people get divided there are chances of sectarian clashes like in Pakistan and other places. I think there is some push from certain quarters to fragment Kashmiri society, they feel that the more the Kashmiri society is fragmented, it will fragment their political discourse and this is dangerous. As it is an impression has been created that the Kashmir problem is limited to Kashmiri Sunnis, that Barelvis, Gujjars, Bakarwals and Shias are not there.

Are you concerned about the rise of the ISIS?

Thank God unlike some other states no one from Kashmir has joined ISIS. Once in a while they raise the Pakistani flag or so but there is no meaning in that. But this is happening because nothing is happening politically on the ground.

Political space for us is being reduced. Our voice is being choked and once the political voice is choked, young boys will go into militancy. The vacuum is being filled by them.

What are the issues India and Pakistan going to discuss?

It's not clear where they will pick up the threads from, whether from Pervez Musharraf's time or after. I believe (former Pakistan Foreign Minister K.M. Kasuri) Kasuri was in Delhi, one of the key guys during Musharraf's time.

When Nawaz Sharif came to power, he was quite averse to Musharraf's ideas and views. But, I think Musharraf's four-point formula (demilitarization on both sides of Kashmir, joint management of certain affairs, open border and self-governance) definitely has some merit that could set the ball rolling. It may not be the final solution but at least it can be the first step in breaking the ice, breaking the status quo.

Pakistan will also have to take a call on issues related to Gilgit Baltistan; for us it is as disputed as Kashmir. If there are talks about merging Gilgit Baltistan into Pakistan, declaring it as the fifth province, fiddling with the basic structure of Gilgit Baltistan, it would have its own implication on the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir.

There are two opinions in Gilgit Baltistan, some people want complete merger with Pakistan whereas others don't want to be part of the system as they feel that they are part of the princely state and that their future is yet to be decided.

I feel Gilgit Baltistan should be given all facilities that are due to them but fiddling with the political structure will be detrimental to the Kashmir cause. Lately, there were reports of having elections there and some political parties expressed willingness to be directly under central control of Islamabad. We, of course, feel that it should not be like that.

Is there a fear among Kashmiris?

Yes, of course. There is no emotional attachment with Gilgit Baltistan but legally, when Kashmiris say there is a dispute we don't mean the dispute is limited to the J&K that is under India. By dispute we mean all five regions as a whole - Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) and Gilgit Baltistan constituting 84,000 sq kms. That was the position in 1947. This is the legal position although there is no emotional connection between these units now. 

Don't you think emotional disconnect can be significant in the future?

Of course, it needs to be addressed. Emotional disconnect is rising even in Jammu and Kashmir where both are at opposite ends and Ladakh is also wanting to stay away from the two. I think it is very necessary to address these internal contradictions. The recent assembly elections have completely divided Hindus and Muslims. As a religious head and Mirwaiz, I have never said from the pulpit of the mosque that Kashmir is a religious issue. We have always seen Kashmir as a political issue. Now Jammu and Kashmir are getting polarised. We used to say unity in diversity but that is now falling apart.


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