- Bashir Manzar
The discussions on the legality of Afzal Guru’s hanging will continue for quite sometime. So will the demand for handing over his body to the family. The matter will be shut and then every year, on February 9, he will be remembered. That is all. This is what the Kashmir handlers in New Delhi seem to be thinking. Let someone remind them that they had the same thinking some 29 years back when Mohammad Maqbool Bhat was hanged, ironically in the same month and in the same jail.
This thinking was proved wrong and within a few years after Bhat’s hanging, hundreds of Kashmiri youths were crossing the Line of Control (LoC), getting military training and coming back with assault rifles to challenge the Indian state.
Bhat’s hanging was not the sole reason behind the armed struggle. There were other reasons too — to name a few, jihad in Afghanistan and the Iranian revolution.
But Bhat was there all over. The first batch of Kashmiri youths who opted for guns were wedded to Bhat’s dream of an independent Jammu and Kashmir.
Bhat’s hanging alone didn’t trigger militancy but the hanging made the youths of that time revisit their history. Once they took this voyage, they found that all was not well between Srinagar and New Delhi. This realisation germinated anger and alienation.
If we go a little bit beyond Bhat’s hanging, Kashmir, after the Indira-Abdullah accord, had sort of reconciled with the fact that it has to live with India. There were just fringe elements who would talk of UN resolutions or plebiscite. People would still cheer Pakistani cricket and hockey teams when they were pitched against Indian teams and that was all.
Things changed drastically after Bhat’s hanging. Kashmiris started asserting their Kashmiri identity and their Muslim identity. This assertion resulted in the formation of the Muslim United Front just three years after Bhat’s hanging. The front contested elections which were shamelessly rigged. Let down by the democratic process, the youths decided to go for the real fight.
Let us have a look at the pre-Guru-execution Kashmir. The futility of the 2010 “Quit India” agitation had forced the youths to rethink. The agitation that saw the death of over 100 boys brought the youths out of the delusion that by throwing stones, they could force India out.
Then we had two very peaceful years. Schools functioning normally, economic activities getting some fillip, tourists flooding the Valley and lots of other positives. Not that Kashmiri youths had decided in favour of India, they had moved from the mode of desirability to achievability. The agitation had lost its sex appeal.
The situation before the Guru hanging was as normal as it was before Bhat’s hanging in the 1980s.
Then comes the shocker! On February 9, Kashmiris all across the Valley wake up to see themselves under siege. Reason: Guru is hanged and buried in Tihar.
The young generation will again revisit the history, the way the youths of the 1980s did. The youths found out a series of betrayals and false promises but today’s youth have much more to get agitated about. They have hundreds of “martyrs’ graveyards” spread all over and, therefore, their reaction could be more dangerous than that of the youths of the 1980s.
One more important thing to note. When the youths had started identifying with Bhat, they studied his life and found him a liberal, secular and democratic because of his ideals of an independent, democratic and secular Jammu and Kashmir. In Guru’s case, the story is totally different.
Today’s youths have been told that Guru was affiliated to the Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group which has nothing Kashmiri about it. It is part of the broader global jihad nexus. So, when the youths start identifying with Guru, directly or indirectly, they will be identifying with Jaish.
By hastily hanging Guru, the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre has again shown that more than anything else, its own political compulsions inform and dictate its Kashmir policy. No wonder then that the government chose to send Guru to the gallows, in complete secrecy, at a time such a move was least expected.
Guru’s hanging may or may not satisfy India’s “collective conscience”, but it has certainly given birth to and brought forth many a moral and political question which the country will have to grapple with for days and months to come.
Kashmir’s mainstream political parties, both the National Conference and the Opposition People’s Democratic Party, as also various individual actors, are aware of the “thin line” they are not expected to cross. But the general public do not know of such red lines and would certainly want someone to explain things to them.
In the face of the Narendra Modi-blitzkrieg from the BJP, the unnerved Congress government did act hastily without weighing certain important things beforehand.
But its inability to answer these questions and doubts have come to haunt Kashmir again and will deepen the already overwhelmingly high alienation in Kashmir. This is certainly not a very good omen, neither for Kashmir nor for the rest of India.