Of green colour and salt politics in Kashmir

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS

Waving a green handkerchief, showing a piece of rock salt – both symbolic references to Pakistan – and questioning Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India, sometimes even openly. These have become potent tools for leaders, who otherwise claim to be secular, to exploit the religious leanings of gullible Kashmiris.

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The politicians misuse these means in a Muslim-dominated society in exactly the same way that Hindu fanatics exploit the Ram temple issue to sway voters in the rest of India.

Not only separatist leaders but nationalists too have fed a politically naïve society with the hate-India and love-Pakistan sentiment ever since the Dogra autocratic rulers were dethroned in 1947. The latest remark by former chief minister Farooq Abdullah is just part of this politicking.

Earlier this month, within a gap of seven days, he has twice cited “continuous human rights abuses by Indian forces” to question Kashmir’s accession to India.

Ironically, his father and late chief minister Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, regarded as the tallest leader the valley has ever produced, was the only politician who openly justified his conscious decision of favouring Kashmir’s accession to India for what he believed was the right choice for “secular minded” Kashmir.

The rest of Sheikh Abdullah’s political successors, including his son, have all cashed in on the exploitable and soft nature of Kashmiris.

Three decades ago, the late Mirza Afzal Baig, once a close aide of Sheikh Abdullah, had a penchant for waving a green handkerchief and showing a piece of rock salt during his public meetings for the Plebiscite Front to woo Kashmiris.

Much water has flowed in the river Jhelum – that bisects the Kashmir Valley and flows down to Pakistan – since then, but little has changed in terms of rhetoric.

Today, the Muftis – Sayed and daughter Mehbooba – with their demilitarisation plank; the Abdullahs – Farooq and son Omar – with their cry over human rights; and the separatists with their communal leaning towards Pakistan, all seem to be sailing in the same direction though in different boats.

Mehbooba Mufti, MP and president of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who drapes herself in full green during public rallies, has the pen and the inkpot as her party symbol – the same that Syed Salahuddin, the supreme commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfit, used when he fought in the infamously rigged assembly election of 1987.

Salahuddin contested the polls on the ticket of the Syed Ali Shah Geelani-led Muslim United Front, another party that used the green colour to the hilt to exploit the religious sentiments of Kashmiris in favour of Pakistan.

Mehbooba in fact goes a step further and dances before the crowds in the valley, whenever she gets a chance, waving her green handkerchief. She did that last year in Srinagar, drawing controversy.

Farooq Abdullah, the crowd puller, is no exception. However, the former chief minister who was eyeing India’s presidency sometime ago has never bothered to say how much blood was shed when he was ruling the state from 1996-2002.

He has even allegedly taken an oath with militant commanders in Pakistan-administered Kashmir to “liberate” Indian Kashmir. Many guerrilla chiefs have said this in public.

Azam Inquilabi, a former militant commander and separatist leader, had termed Farooq Abdullah “our senior leader”.

“In Muzaffarabad, Farooq had taken a vow to liberate Kashmir from Indian occupation,” Inquilabi once said in an interview with an Urdu weekly published from Kashmir.

The exploitative game is usually played when elections are around the corner and this time the parties have started well in advance. Assembly polls in the state are less than a year away, and only the politicians know how relevant the politics of green colour handkerchiefs and rock salt is today.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at [email protected])