Politicians must drop rhetoric and stand up for people’s dignity

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The killing of civilians in the Hyderpora incident of Srinagar provoked a fresh wave of public anger and dissent against the government forces’ heavy-handed tactics. While the debate and discussion on this incident will continue in the public sphere, there is an essential takeaway from this tragic incident — that the voice of mainstream leadership in Kashmir is still robust and more relevant than ever. Credit where due, the Kashmiri leadership expressed strong dissent against the policies of the Narendra Modi government and hostile tactics of the forces. 

On 15 November, the alleged gunfight, in which three civilians were killed, took place. The next day the daughter of civilian Muhammad Altaf Bhat made a heart-rendering statement suggesting that her father was taken as a human shield by the forces during the gunfight and had no links with the militants. 

Even though the Hurriyat Conference called for a shutdown in the valley, which was responded vehemently, among the mainstream politicians the President of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Conference took a strong stand. Sticking his neck out, Sajad Lone was the first politician to issue a statement through his twitter in support of the grieving families on the afternoon of 16 November. Lone minced no words in his tweet. He called for an independent probe in the matter by a “neutral institution”, suggesting a routine magisterial investigation will not be enough to unearth the truth. He called upon the administration to rise to the occasion to protect and provide dignity to human lives. 

Interestingly, most of the other political parties and leaders who had maintained a silence until then also started issuing statements. A short while later, People’s Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti also posted a tweet. The scion of the grand old party waited for another few hours to break his silence—all leaders insisting upon return of dead bodies and an independent probe. 

Putting aside the timing of the statements issued by various parties, it is crucial to analyze what would have been the fate of the victim families had the political leaders not amplified their voice in unequivocal terms. The police had already made a serious effort to put a lid on the incident by labelling two slain civilians as “militant associates” and indulged in a time-buying exercise by calling for a probe. There was a palpable fear among the locals that the families would be censured next. But it was indeed the appropriate and timely intervention of the mainstream political leaders that gave strength to the victim families and citizens expressing dissent. For the first time since 5 August 2019, political leaders who came out to protest on the streets of Srinagar showed courage. 

In this case, instead of hollow rhetoric, the mainstream leadership stood behind a justified cause despite the fear of state censure and investigations. The statements made by them were logical and backed by evidence without any mudslinging or point-scoring. The individual leaders seem to have put aside their petty rivalries to meet two demands: the return of bodies and a judicial probe. Although the silence of the Apni Party was mythical, its spokesperson Junaid Mattu was the only vocal voice while other leaders of the party, notably its chief Altaf Bukhari retreated into silence. 

Post-August 2019, the political leadership in Kashmir has always spoken in fearful voices. The element of fear — investigative agencies, heavy-handed state tactics and imprisonment — looms large. There is a need for introspection in every political party. When does dissent become criminal or seditious? Is it possible to dissent without crossing the line and allowing the state to crackdown? Does empty rhetoric justify action against political leaders in the rest of the country? Do statements that are confrontational do more harm to the cause of people? 

There is no doubt that hysterical and confrontational statements make good headlines and generate a lot of attention for the political leaders. It helps them in remaining relevant, but at the same time, it gives the current dispensation much-needed justification to crack down on the political parties and label them as “anti-national”. How difficult is it for the political leaders to ever desist from making such rhetorical statements and focus on the substance of the issues? 

Apart from an absence of leadership, Kashmir’s politics is also facing a shortage of intellect in its leadership. A class of politicians whose sole aim is to make ill-thought statements on China, Pakistan and other incendiary issues to bait the national news channels and become a subject of their trashy debates and abuse. In a masochistic indulgence, our politicians love being whipped by the prime-time anchors to wipe off the stains of past sins from their garments. 

Perhaps some of the senior politicians should avoid ill-afforded confrontation not just in actions but also in their public utterances. Rhetorical statements and mindless confrontations with Delhi only generate consent for the victimization of Kashmiris and that it is vital for the leadership to protect and shield the interests of Kashmir. 

On this date, there are three victims, and their families are awaiting justice. The political leaders of Kashmir have to decide whether they want to cleanse their garments from old stains by making hysterical statements or stand up for the rights of the people by making thoughtful interventions to ensure the delivery of justice. Raising Pakistan, China, and indulging in mindless confrontations with New Delhi will only create consent for further victimisation and disempowerment of Kashmiri. The people of Kashmir should know the real leaders standing up for them in a challenging situation and speak out against the politician who seeks to rinse the blemishes of his and her past sins by shouting aloud from the rooftops.

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