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Kashmir leaders forget Afzal Guru’s & Maqbool Bhat’s mortal remains

The call for shutdown, which came from a faction of the separatist Hurriyat Conference but was either fully ignored or published with insignificant treatment by some local newspapers, had a very limited impact

For the second consecutive year, there was only a partial shutdown on the execution anniversaries of the JKLF ideologues Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat in the Kashmir valley on February 9 and 11.

The call for shutdown, which came from a faction of the separatist Hurriyat Conference but was either fully ignored or published with insignificant treatment by some local newspapers, had a very limited impact.

Shops and other business establishments, besides all government and private offices, were open and sections of the passenger transport were seen operating at many places. Even in Bhat’s hometown of Kupwara, transport operated as usual.

This was in sharp contrast to the pre-2019 years when there used to be complete shutdown on both days. Transport would be fully off the road and shops would remain shuttered. Even the government offices wouldn’t open at many places.

Newspapers would prominently publish the calls for shutdown from militants and separatists and their activities of the day, including demonstrations and seminars, with photographs on the front pages. Even some mainstream politicians would compete and outsmart the separatists in peddling the narrative of victimhood and injustice and demand the return of the two JKLF ideologues’ mortal remains.

Those in the power would remain at the receiving end and try to plead ‘helplessness’. Those out of power and in the opposition would remain unrelenting in pressing their demand of retrieving Guru’s and Bhat’s bodies from Delhi and permitting the families to hold the last rites in their ancestral graveyards in Sopore and Kupwara. The separatists wanted the bodies back for their interment at the ‘Mazaar-e-Shuhada’ in Srinagar.

There was no such drama in Kashmir this February; no mention of the two JKLF men whose politics and execution was exploited by many of the mainstream politicians to hoodwink their electorate so as to win elections and ministerial berths for themselves.

Even after Guru’s death, his son Ghalib’s distinction in his 10th standard examination was profusely extolled by the valley’s chief ministers, ministers and other politicians. Today’s nobody knows about the separatists and their sons and daughters excelling in exams.

Bhat was convicted by the trial court in a murder case, awarded death sentence and executed in Delhi’s Tihar Jail on 11 February 1984, days after the JKLF terrorists kidnapped and shot dead an Indian diplomat, Ravinder Mhatre, in Birmingham, England. Years later, the JKLF terrorists gunned down Nilknath Ganjoo, the judge who had pronounced death sentence on Bhat, while he was coming out of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in Srinagar where he worked as an advocate after his retirement.

Guru was convicted by the trial court for allegedly helping the Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists in planning and executing a suicide attack on the Parliament House in New Delhi on 13 December 2001. Like Bhat, he too was hanged to death in Tihar Jail after all of his appeals and mercy petitions were rejected by different courts and finally by the President of India.

On many occasions, much more than the separatists it were the valley’s mainstream politicians, including those whose chief ministers signed death warrants, who alleged ‘unfair trial’ and sustained the narrative of injustice and victimhood apparently for their political and electoral gains. Their protestations would pass off as rightful democratic expressions.

The situation seems to have remarkably changed after the breakdown of the PDP-BJP government in June 2018. However, it was only after the death of 40 CRPF personnel in a terror strike on 14 February 2019 that the BJP government at the Centre came under pressure and it took a series of actions.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP government imposed a ban on JKLF and Jamaat-e-Islami, got many of the separatists jailed and withdrew heavy security details from the top Hurriyat leaders. This sequence led to the historic actions of 5 August 2019 when many of the mainstream political leaders were arrested and detained under Public Safety Act for several months and the State’s special status was withdrawn through a Parliamentary legislation and a Presidential order.

For some time after their release, the mainstream leaders pledged to continue their struggle for restoration of Article 370 and 35-A besides the Statehood. Some of them asserted in their interviews to the media and tweets that they would not participate in any election until Article 370 and 35-A and the Statehood was restored and Jammu and Kashmir was reorganised into one State.

The mainstream parties also forged an alliance which, according to them, would stop the BJP and its local partner, Apni Party, from capturing the democratic institutions.

The alliance suffered the first setback when its youth icon and an IAS topper, Shah Faesal, resigned not only from his party but also from politics. With the beginning of the DDC elections, Congress moved out. Days after the results were declared, Peoples Conference (PC) deserted the alliance.

Over the last few weeks, most of the valley’s mainstream leaders have changed the tone and tenor of their complaints against Delhi. Their aggressive tweets have vanished and they have reduced the emphasis of their demands to “restoration of Statehood”, which in fact has been Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and Home Minister Amit Shah’s own commitment inside and outside the Parliament.

Of late, reports of the mainstream leaders trying individually to restore liaison with their friends and promoters in the BJP and the RSS have been pouring out of Delhi. Many of them seem to have realised that the 20-year-long licence to the pseudo-separatist politics has been withdrawn and there is no grey left for their survival. Speaking about Guru and Bhat, obviously, would only queer their pitch.