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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mehbooba Mufti’s inheritance of loss: How Burhan Wani grew to iconic status in the Valley

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


Burhan Wani, the 23-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen militant cutting his teeth with India’s glamorous social media, achieved what only the charismatic Sheikh Abdullah had to his credit in Kashmir’s history – a sizeable swarm of people at his funeral prayers, anything between the army’s drone figure of 15,000 and some journalists’ 2,00,000. Over a million had joined the Sheikh’s in 1982 – by far the largest. Many of the 48 youths killed in the clashes triggered by the July 8 encounter died on the day of the funeral.

Funerals of even the iconic militants and separatists have been invariably ignored as their charm faded out the same day. Some pulled a thousand, someone even five or ten thousand. In 20 years, Kashmir has witnessed two massive funerals: around 20,000 attended Mustafa Khan’s during Farooq Abdullah’s regime in Tangmarg and around 30,000 Badshah Khan’s in Kulgam when Mufti Sayeed was chief minister.

It didn’t take Kashmiris long to forget even top separatist leaders Abdul Gani Lone and Sheikh Abdul Aziz – one shot dead by gunmen in Srinagar in 2002 and another killed in security forces’ firing in Baramulla in 2008. Masarat Alam, unparalleled protagonist of the 2010 street turbulence faded into oblivion within days of his arrest. More significantly, nobody died for high profile separatist Afzal Guru whose execution in 2013 was “murder of an innocent” for the average Kashmiri.

So what made Burhan a legend whose death triggered a chain of clashes and left around 50 people dead, hundreds injured and a bustling tourist season that has already suffered losses of hundreds of crores of rupees punctured?

After the Sheikh’s dismissal in 1953 and his successor Farooq Abdullah’s in 1984, no J&K politician has embarrassed New Delhi beyond a point. Mufti alone, who cultivated Congress and floated his own PDP to neutralise Sheikh’s National Conference (NC), took liberties. His detractors insist he had Delhi’s “licence” that eventually made him the only Muslim home minister.

His brief tenure as Union home minister witnessed a fringe insurgency explode with the release of JKLF militants in exchange for his kidnapped daughter Rubaiya in 1989, followed by Kashmiri Pandits’ mass migration in 1990. His outcry over the Ghulam Nabi Azad government’s allotment of land to a Hindu shrine board divided people irretrievably on regional and communal lines in 2008, when secessionism had ebbed and the Valley was blooming with tranquillity.

With a mission to demolish Abdullah’s NC, Mufti and daughter Mehbooba left no stone unturned to discredit and demonise ‘India’ – its body politic, democracy, systems and institutions. With both UPA’s and NDA’s unfettered permission, he laid the ‘road to Rawalpindi’. It won him a chunk of votes and helped him become chief minister twice, but at a price Delhi will have to pay for ages.

For over a decade Mufti and his party only whetted the sense of victimhood and betrayal in the Valley which, in the process, grew rabidly anti-Indian – some of them ferociously Islamist. Omar Abdullah’s deficits of domicile, language and culture forced him to toe Mufti’s line and both, in competition, began discrediting “Indians”.

At the end of the day, nobody in Kashmir respects or loves India. Anybody perceived to be soft on India runs huge risks, such as those meted out to the residents of Kokernag after the July 8 encounter. Their houses were torched and orchards destroyed. The government remained a mute spectator.

The irony is that Kashmir was pushed back to the abyss when complaints of rape, custodial killings and fake encounters against the security forces had dipped to the lowest level of 25 years and India’s best held assembly elections had happened in J&K in 2014. Nobody knew Burhan who was then three years into militancy.

But Mufti didn’t wait much to ride the tiger. He freed Masarat and permitted him to hold a massive pro-Pakistan demonstration in front of J&K police headquarters. It woke up all the lions in hibernation. Within days a young school dropout emerged as an icon of jihad for Kashmir’s Generation Next.

Meanwhile, Mufti’s ally continued to stoke fires. A frenzied group of cow vigilantes killed a Kashmiri Muslim trucker in Udhampur. BJP leaders and friends filed petitions to terminate the state’s flag and special position. The tinderbox needed just a matchstick that came in handy with Burhan’s death.


[Published on editorial page of all editions of today’s TIMES OF INDIA]

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