Does Hurriyat unity indicate yearning for elections?

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS

Srinagar : By getting two high profile leaders to rejoin, the moderate faction of Jammu and Kashmir’s Hurriyat Conference has got a shot in the arm. It is a significant move any way you look at it – whether the separatist amalgam is preparing for assembly polls due this year or whether it is firming up resistance against it.

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On Monday Shabir Shah, separatist leader and chairperson of the Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) and once considered a mastermind behind Kashmir’s “freedom struggle”, joined the wing led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. He had left the Hurriyat fold in 1998.

A couple of days before that, Sheikh Abdul Aziz of the People’s League also joined hands with Mirwaiz after having abandoned hardliner Syed Ali Geelani’s Hurriyat about a month ago.

For the Mirwaiz, who has been in a bitter battle with Geelani, an ardent supporter of the state’s accession with Pakistan, the two developments come as a major morale booster as the state slowly gets into election gear.

“The Mirwaiz has definitely scored a point over Geelani after alluring Shah and Aziz into his fold,” said Ghulam Nabi Rather, a political science teacher here.

Rather, who has been keenly watching Kashmir politics, however, doubted if the “exercise would bear desired fruits” — to put an end to the miseries of Kashmiris.

“I don’t know what the game is behind the scenes but one can’t be wrong if the development is viewed at this juncture in the context of the coming polls,” Rather told IANS.

He said he did not know if the Hurriyat had done any groundwork for the elections. “But if their close public contacts during the past one year are considered, it seems they are game for it.”

The other view is that the ‘membership drive’ was an attempt to organise resistance against the elections in view of the fast changing ground situation in Kashmir. The 2002 assembly poll and by-elections have brought back the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as major popular political players in Kashmir Valley.

“The tussle between the nationalist parties keeps them fresh in public memory for any wrong or right reason, which has also drawn the people enthusiastically into the electoral course in Kashmir,” pointed out Mohammed Irshad, another political scientist.

“The separatist parties are wary of the popularity the mainstream parties are gaining these days. This has also necessitated them to forge unity and come up with a joint plan,” said Irshad.

“It (the unification) can also be aimed at organising a resistance against the elections,” he added.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, formed in 1993, split in August 2003 after Geelani, who was in jail during the 2002 elections, accused one of its units of fielding proxy candidates in the elections.

Geelani also charged the Mirwaiz and other leaders with going soft on Hurriyat’s anti-election programme that he said resulted in a large voter turnout.

How the Mirwaiz will move forward in the months before October when elections are due will be keenly watched. Not just in the state and the country but also outside.