In 1983, when Kashmir hosted its first ever, one among the only two, international cricket event – an India versus West Indies game – the crowd cheered enthusiastically for every stroke played by West Indian batsmen. Most of the spectators were Kashmiri youths, applauding each and every delivery by West Indian bowling legends who were giving Indian batsmen a troublesome time on the wicket. During the match, some youths also started waving Pakistani flags, perturbing even the West Indian batsmen as much as the Indian cricketers. This little event was a metaphor of a larger reality surrounding Jammu and Kashmir’s repulsion to the domination of Indian state.
Much has happened in Kashmir since that match, but nothing has changed. Yesterday’s event is the testimony.
Moments after landing in Srinagar after spending a period of three months in New Delhi, pro-Pakistan separatist and chairman of Hurriyat conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani arrived at his residence in a procession of his supporters led by recently released Muslim League chairman Masarat Alam. After addressing the rally, Geelani’s first since December 2013, Police booked both the pro-freedom leaders under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for “provocative activities and hoisting of Pakistani flags.”
Unfurling of the Pakistani flag is not a rare thing in Kashmir.
Last month, chairman of women separatist group Dukhtaran-e-Millat, Asiya Andrabi was booked for unfurling Pakistani flag in Srinagar on Pakistan’s National Day on March 23.
So, why the controversy? Perhaps, the timing and nature of ruling government in the state is the answer.
The most common guess is of the relatively different posturing about the issue between two-ruling coalition partners BJP-PDP. Though being on the equal plane of pro-India mainstream political parties, PDP is fairly aware about the Pakistani sentiment in the Valley, however, it will be equally hard for it to convince its partner BJP and that too when the central government has asked chief minister Mufti to take strictest possible action against Geelani and Alam.
Meanwhile, Geelani has given a call for Tral Chalo on Friday where a 24-year-old youth was killed by the Army on Monday. Though Army claims the boy, brother of a prominent Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander, was an “Over Ground Worker” of HM, the family says he was killed in a “fake encounter.”
While Mufti has termed the waving of Pakistani flag as “unacceptable”, the flag hoisting controversy is likely going to drive another wedge between the ruling coalition partners BJP and PDP in the state. BJP wants Mufti to re-arrest Alam, the same leader, who was released by the court days after Mufti took over as the head of the state and whose release echoed furious debate in the Parliament.
Dominating the political landscape in the Valley since partition in 1947, the word ‘Pakistan’ punctuates daily lives of the Kashmiris; be it in the form of singing marriage songs, shouting Azadi slogans, celebrating Pakistan’s win or even during funeral processions of militants. Ask a cricket-loving child in Kashmir about his favorite player. More often than not, the reply will be the name of a Pakistani cricketer.
It is precisely in this context that Mufti, while sailing on a soft-separatism wave but fundamentally representing Indian mainstream politics, had after elections thanked Pakistan, Hurriyat and militants for ‘providing conducive atmosphere for elections in the Valley’, deriving irk and resentment from BJP top leaders.
The controversy also strips open a thin line which exists within the framework of different pro-Indian political parties, in this case BJP and PDP, vis-a-vis dealing with the anti-India sentiment in the Valley. While the coalition partners may disagree with their ‘way’ of ‘containment’ of separatist leaders in the Valley, the booking of Geelani and Alam manifests that the underlying principle of sustaining the status quo remains unchanged.
As far as PDP is concerned, they will be more than happy to corner the issue and move forward. But will BJP allow it? The much hyped marriage of “north pole and south pole” alliance is likely to go through many sleepless nights in the coming days.
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of ScoopWhoop)