Niloofar Qureshi

Hartal Politics: Back to Square One!

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Last month there was a report in the media that about the likelihood of the Hurriyat doing away with its hartal politics. This news was widely welcomed as shutdowns were putting the people of Kashmir through extreme hardships and untold miseries. Hopes were very high because while speaking on different occasions, separatist leaders had individually accepted that there was a definite need to find alternative forms of protest to replace shutdowns. And after United Jihad Council (UJC) chief and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) supremo intervened by appealing to Kashmiris belonging to all sections of society to offer suggestions to JRL “so that an effective strategy could be chalked out vis-à-vis Kashmir,” everyone was convinced that the two decade long unproductive ‘hartal politics’ would finally come to an end.

The first serious call for doing away with shutdowns was made two years ago when the JRL spoke about formulating “a long term sustainable strategy based on proactive initiatives, programmes and sustainable modes of protests.” Readers may recall that this was sometime in December when the summer unrest of 2016 had entered its sixth month. At that time the JRL had stated that in order to work out an alternative strategy “efforts are on to reach out to all sections of society including students, traders, transporters, teachers, lawyers, artists, writers, artisans and others to discuss the idea with them, seek their suggestions and their assurance of participation and support to the long term plan.”

And when the JRL claimed that by detaining Mirwaiz the government was not allowing the separatist conglomerate to evolve an alternate protest strategy it sent out the signal that our leaders were really serious this time. Thus, when last month’s news report mentioned that the unanimous view after the JRL’s interaction with all sections of society as well as religious organisations was that hartals weren’t helping to end the killings in Kashmir, one obviously got the impression that the JRL had finally shed its obdurate mindset on the issue of hartals and was amenable to change and this was seen as an unprecedented development.

However, instead of coming out with a vibrant protest strategy, the news that JRL’s new proposal was nothing but a repeat of the anti special status abrogation protest strategy came as a big dampener because here was nothing new about it. What it really amounted to was merely putting old wine in new bottles, but that’s not all.

One really wonders how someone could even think that such an impractical strategy would ever succeed. Working out a protest calendar in which different sectors (professions) carry out protest rallies in their assigned areas sounds fine, but will this ease the problems of the common man, especially daily wagers? Who would like to visit Kashmir once this proposal is put into practice? Because, there could be a bus drivers strike on Monday, shopkeepers downing their shutters on Tuesday, hoteliers not entertaining guests on Wednesday, Shikara owners not sailing on Thursdays, no ponywallas to be seen on Fridays, porters missing from bus stops on Saturdays and all eating places closed on Sundays!

So when the JRL announced on Tuesday that “hartals the only option available” no one was really surprised and though the reason given is the “cycle of worst human rights violations being committed in Kashmir by the rulers,” Kashmir watchers know better. Without intending to blame anyone, it would be pertinent to note that even while the JRL was speaking about an alternative to ‘hartal politics’, their own statements on this issue were shrouded in pessimism and had a distinct tone of abject helplessness. And this showed that the separatist leadership are still unwilling to shed their preconceived ideas and antiquated thoughts. For two decades, life in Kashmir has been frequently interrupted by shutdowns which have on many occasions gone on for months at a stretch and everything from livelihood to education and health care has suffered immensely. And that’s why people are today openly questioning the current strategy of the JRL giving calls for shutdowns at the drop of a hat since it disrupts normal life.

Nothing will change unless our leaders change their mindsets. This is a must since it’s this fixated mindset that makes Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farook reject all other alternatives by saying “We have only one option that is calling for a shutdown to let the world community know about the oppression Kashmiri are facing.” The same mindset is responsible for JKLF chairman Yasin Malik’s snide remark “They (High Court Bar Association, civil society members, media and others) say that we don’t have any other strategy apart from calling for shutdowns. Do you have a better suggestion? Then tell us.” And it is again the same mindset that compels Hurriyat (G) chairman to sound the death knell for an alternative to hartal politics by saying “Many voices were heard about finding alternatives to strike calls but so far no concrete or practical idea has come to fore from any quarter.”

The JRL has been interacting with all sections of society for the last two years and has been assured by all stakeholders that its instructions would be implicitly followed both in letter and spirit. Last month’s news that the JRL was likely to end ‘hartal politics’ isn’t based on mere speculation but is attributed to “sources” and since the JRL didn’t deny the same it was presumed to be what is loosely referred to as a ‘selective leak’. Thus, while the JRL may have taken us for a wonderful two year long roller coaster ride with the promise to do away with ‘hartal politics’, it has abruptly stopped the ride and left us hanging in the lurch. And now that we are back to square one, let’s hope that the JRL at least gives a thought to the old maxim about how excess of everything is bad and becomes more discerning while giving hartal calls!

Happy shutdowns to all of you!

 

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