If you wish to witness necessity mothering invention real time, come talk to Mirwaiz Umer Farooq. It has probably dropped on him that stasis has settled on his stage and if it is allowed to linger, it will fold on itself.
The leader of the moderate Hurriyat conglomerate won’t countenance the suggestion of irrelevance but to hear him is to know he senses they are headed there: “We have to completely reinvent ourselves, we have to find ways of making ourselves relevant to our people in new ways. I have begun to believe the Hurriyat needs complete restructuring.”
But just so he gives New Delhi no cause to get excited that it has finally driven the Hurriyat weary, the Mirwaiz issues a due disclaimer.
“The struggle for our political cause will continue, that we cannot give up. But that alone is not enough, people have other needs and
aspirations, they have daily issues, the Hurriyat can no longer excuse itself from playing a role there, we have to mean something to our people, we have to probably become a parallel government.”
If that sounds like a radical thought coming from Hurriyat quarters, read on. In the course of articulating what is very evidently a recent — and not exhaustively thought — mediation, the Mirwaiz also speaks of repudiating violence as instrument for achieving declared objectives.
“These are changed times, a new order is coming to the fore, our strategies have to become much more refined and sophisticated.”
We are in the auditoriums of the Islamia School in the Rajouri Kadal hub of downtown Srinagar. It is an institution set up by his great-
grandfather and today, as current holder of the Mirwaiz title, Umer Farooq has arrived to preside over an annual function.
The hall hums with boys and girls on the threshold of becoming Kashmir’s newest adult generation. The question put to him is whether he thinks their decision not to contest elections has robbed the Hurriyat of an opportunity to impact the destinies of a people they claim to represent.
Is it a thing to rue that the Hurriyat does not intervene in the lives of Kashmiris beyond calling protests and hartals?
The Mirwaiz runs his gaze down the packed hall, affects attention on a girl midway through her valedictory declamation, then says: “Well yes and no. Of course we want to play a greater role in the lives of our people but elections are not the only way. We have to be innovative, we cannot concern ourselves only with hartals, we have to change our ways, become more responsible. For a start, we have to completely rid our politics of violence, that does not work, it hurts our own people.
We cannot be rash about hartals and boycotts, that too hurts our people, especially the young and the aspiring. Kashmiris have to stand up for themselves and do things for themselves rather than complain all the time, we in the Hurriyat have to change ourselves.”
Not that the Mirwaiz desists from complaining: a Centre that seems “uninterested” in talking, an interlocutors’ report that’s only good for the dustbin, a government that is “indifferent and out of sync”, a nation that wakes up to the Kashmir problem only when violence erupts. “Why should it take deaths in Kashmir for New Delhi to realise the Kashmir issue is alive?”
Kashmir is a drama of many immobilised actors, lead among them chief minister Omar Abdullah, who has neither been able to push autonomy beyond the state Assembly’s paperwork nor been able to order security forces the way he says he wants to. Successive central allies — the NDA and the UPA — have blithely disregarded the autonomy resolution of the National Conference. The army has obdurately stymied his demand to rid pockets in the Valley of provisions of the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act).
But the Hurriyat is locked in its own stalemates. It has not been able to push the independence aspiration an inch; it cannot go back on the flaming rhetoric it has dished out to Kashmiris. The chasm between lofty demand and negligible delivery is turning increasingly untenable.
Worse, the Hurriyat is wracked by internal dissension. In past weeks, Hurriyat protagonists have spoken at cross-purposes and out of turn.
Twice, they have come to blows. At least once, a protest call has been ducked by the busy street. Some in the leadership, the Mirwaiz included, are beginning to ask themselves a question they haven’t bothered with too much in the past: Are people beginning to bypass us?
“We must devise novel ways of keeping the people involved and interested,” the Mirwaiz says, “if the government will not give us space
we must create our own. If they can elect panchayats, we can have counter-panchayats, we can make mosques the centre of activity, but we have to get into the daily cycle of ordinary lives, the larger struggle has its place but we must also deal with what happens until then,” the Mirwaiz said.
He firmly and repeatedly brushes aside the idea that moderates, especially those getting on in years, are looking for respectable ways to enter the electoral arena. “Elections are not an option. By our very
definition, we seek independence, but not participating in polls should not prevent us from actively participating in people’s lives in a way we have not done thus far,” the Mirwaiz says.
“If we cannot orient ourselves to change, there will be consequences.”
Which is why he increasingly sounds like an enactment of that old idiom about the relationship between necessity and invention.
(The author is editor with The Telegraph)