Srinagar, April 16: It is rare for people in India and Pakistan to listen to the same person speak on radio. But Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s appeal transcends the India-Pakistan border.
On Wednesday, the separatist leader, who leads a conglomeration of several pro-Pakistan groups in Kashmir, emerged from his winter home in Delhi and immediately raised the temperature in the Valley.
At a rally to greet him in Srinagar, where he arrived after hibernating in Delhi on the advice of his doctor, participants raised anti-India slogans, waved Pakistani flags, remindedNarendra Modi that his hands are ‘soaked with the blood of Muslims’ and issued stern warnings to chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed against strengthening the ‘status quo.’
This was a scene that could have taken place anywhere in Pakistan.
The rally was broadcast live in Muzzafarabad, capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for the benefit of Geelani’s intended audience. Listeners cheered and applauded as he spoke of Azaadi.
Standing next to Geelani was the man on whom Mufti had bet on heavily to mend relations with separatists: Masarat Alam, Geelani’s rumoured heir and the man who was released from jail recently.
But instead of reciprocating Mufti’s gesture, he was busy rousing the crowd against his government and its partners in Delhi and egging on the ‘enthusiastic youngsters’ who were all praising Pakistan.
Irony may have died a thousand deaths on radio and in Srinagar.
When nearly 70 percent of voters came out to participate in the recent assembly elections in J& K, it was assumed to be a mandate for peace, a stamp of approval on the Indian democratic traditions.
Instead, we are hearing pro-Pak slogans.
When Narendra Modi and his nationalist party allied with Mufti to form the government, it was assumed that the Valley would turn saffron. Instead, separatists like Masarat must be feeling proud seeing how green his Valley is today.
The tone of Geelani’s speech, and the zest of his supporters, suggest that the tricolor is under a cloud, and the crescent and star is rising again.
“Before resolving the Kashmir issue and taking everyone on board including separatists and Pakistan, Mufti should make his views public about whether he accepts that Kashmir is under Indian occupation and whether people should be given the right to self-determination or not,” Geelani said.
“Mufti recently termed J&K as the crown of India but he must know that Indian forces have killed six lakh people and grabbed the J&K territory by using its military might. Mufti wants status quo but we reject it and make it to clear to him that people of J&K want complete independence,” he added.
Is this what Mufti had hoped to hear when he rolled out his ‘politics of sentiments’ in the Valley? After all, he has gone out of his way over the past few weeks to mollycoddle separatists and humour Pakistan.
Soon after being sworn-in, he thanked Pakistan, Hurriyat and hardliners for allowing free and fair elections in the state. A few days later, he decided to free Alam. And, somewhere in between, he demanded that the remains of Afzal Guru be handed back to the family.
Obviously, Mufti is not getting it right.
Already, people in the Valley are arguing that the PDP-BJP alliance will not lead to any dramatic solution of the Kashmir problem. And that Mufti’s gestures are futile.
In an acerbic criticism of the alliance, Dr Syed M Inayatullah Andrabirecently argued in local daily Kashmir Reader that “Kashmir politics has only two opposite poles, one camp regards accession to India as final, the other resisting it and holding that people of J&K are yet to decide their political future through a free and fair plebiscite. PDP and BJP subscribe to the former and as such are on the same side. As regards other ideological areas, for example, those relating to social, economic, and foreign policy issues they can have differences but that is irrelevant here.”
Obviously, Kashmiris are not impressed by Mufti’s strategy. Even terrorists and their supporters in Pakistan are not willing to give him a chance. Kashmir is once again back to where it all began: Demands for azaadi, talk of plebiscite and anti-Indian rhetoric.
“People of this country have blessed us like Lord Shiva and given us very big responsibility. BJP will never compromise on national interest, merely to remain in power in J&K,” BJP chief Amit Shah had said, addressing BJP workers in his assembly constituency Naranpura in March.
“The government (in J&K) has been formed only to solve Kashmir issue and I have full trust that we will find a solution to this issue,” he had further promised.
If only Shah had tuned in to Geelani radio on Wednesday, he would have realised that his promise of a solution is turning out to be just another jumla.