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Monday, 17 October 2011

Anna Hazare and the question of Kashmir

Amidst the echo of the ongoing Kashmir discord among the ranks of Team Anna, the Srinagar-Imphal yatra against Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was flagged off by a gaggle of noted activists including Team Anna member Medha Patkar and Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey. The yatra, in support of the anti-AFSPA activist Irom Sharmila, will cover 4500 miles across 10 states and culminate in Imphal on 27 October outside the Jawahar Lal Nehru Hospital where Sharmila, who is on fast for the past decade, is admitted.

It was a small gathering of the activists that collected at Srinagar’s Pratap Park late afternoon before the start of yatra. Forming a circle, they made short speeches highlighting the excesses of AFSPA in Kashmir and the Northeast and expressing determination to create a public groundswell in favour of its immediate repeal. The speakers included known Kashmiri faces such as independent legislator Engineer Abdur Rashid, chairman of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons Parveena Ahanger, the RTI activist Dr Muzaffar and significantly, the member of hardline Hurriyat Conference Zamrooda Habib who shouted pro-freedom slogans.

However, it was the visit to the Hazratbal shrine, which threatened to plunge the yatra into a familiar Kashmir controversy: Patkar found herself in a spot when asked about her opinion on the issue of Kashmir. Her answer was not straight. In a roundabout reply Patkar ended up endorsing Anna’s stance. “Solution to Kashmir can be found within the constitution but first AFSPA should be removed,” Patkar said.

Her colleague Pandey, however, had an opinion to the contrary. “We support the demand of right to self determination whether it be for the people of J&K, Northeast or fight of the people of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand over their resources,” said the social activist.

When asked about his opinion on the remarks of Anna Hazare that Kashmir is an integral part of India, Pandey said Anna was unable to overcome the nationalism he had imbibed while serving in the Army. “If Anna talks of Gram Swaraj then according to this villagers have sovereign authority to decide their issues including land acquisition. So people of Kashmir have also right to decide their fate,” Pandey said.

Talking about his own view of the Kashmir issue, Pandey said he wanted a “borderless South Asia” along the lines of European Union. “We don’t believe in nationalism,” Pandey said. “Nationalism creates borders”.

By the time yatra was about to depart, Patkar too had become wary of the problematic Kashmir question with a potential to push the whole exercise off its track. When further pressed over her stance between Prashant Bhushan and Anna on Kashmir, she replied there was no difference between the opinions of the two members on the state. “Prashant is an integral part of Team Anna and there is no difference on Kashmir between him and Anna,” she said.

Among the Kashmiri members, Engineer Rashid made a lot of anti-AFSPA noise. Rashid had recently moved the aborted resolution for clemency to Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in JK House. On Saturday, he had brought along a villager Nazir Ahmad Sheikh—a victim of torture by the Army—from his constituency Langate. “This is what AFSPA does. This man is an innocent civilian. He was never a militant. But he was still tortured and this is how he lost his arms and legs,” Rashid said. The man, Rashid said, was his relative.

Incidentally, this is the first time that Kashmir has participated in a pan-India yatra. There were no dissenting murmurs from any quarter and significantly, the separatist camp, which although didn’t show its support in public, didn’t choose to oppose it either. Besides, the presence of the hardline Hurriyat leader Zamrooda Habib attested to this fact. Habib was in Tihar jail for allegedly receiving money from the Pakistan embassy to finance separatist activities in Valley.


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