Let us not make Afzal Guru a martyr!

By Rakesh Khar | Updated: Feb 10, 2013, 18:52 PM IST

Rakesh Khar

Did the UPA government err gravely in shutting the Valley post the hanging of Afzal Guru?

Did the shutting not lend credibility to the three-day protest call given there by separatists? And most tragically for India did it not bestow martyrdom in the eyes of Kashmiris to someone whose terror outfit not only killed Indian security forces but also stifled several voices of sanity in the Valley?

Did Centre force Omar Abdullah’s hand or did he play a willing partner to keep his law and order normalcy record clean ahead of assembly elections in the state?

All these questions beg an answer. True Kashmir is a complex case with no black and white solutions. But sure there is a case for a dispassionate assessment of the on ground situation today.

Afzal Guru is no Maqbool Bhat! Although both got hanged in the month of February, the similarity ends there. Maqbool Bhat’s hanging happened in far more dramatic and tense environment and thus in his execution was laid the seed for the armed uprising in the Valley.

On Sept 14, 1986, Bhat killed a state police inspector, and later in 1971 hijacked an Indian plane to Lahore. On Feb 3, 1984, an Indian diplomat in UK named Ravindra Mhatre was kidnapped in Birmingham with a demand that Bhat be released. The diplomat was murdered three days later leading to Bhat`s petition for clemency getting rejected. He was executed in the Tihar Jail on February 11, 1984.

The execution provoked instant protests in the Valley but most importantly helped the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) organise itself with support from external quarters into a formidable force which eventually launched the armed struggle against India for liberation of Kashmir.

Afzal Guru indeed emerged as among the stars of the anti-India movement for his ability to plan an attack that left India’s psyche wounded. But that was in 2001! In August end 2011, Omar Abdullah tweeted whether public response would have been `muted` if his Assembly asked for mercy for Afzal Guru.

This briefly brought Guru back into limelight. But a clemency resolution a month later in the state assembly fell for want of a consensus. Apart from political parties trading charges (sticking to their established positions), the Valley by and large ignored the development driven instead by the pent up desire to lead a normal peaceful life.

The recent tension on the Line of Control (LOC) too did not have any negative impact in the Valley. That Kashmir means business is evident from the fact that the Valley witnessed record tourist turnout recently. This was made possible by general improvement in the overall law and order situation and positive steps like withdrawal of bunkers from most parts of the Valley. The state police being reinvested with the authority it commanded pre-militancy also improved the overall sentiment.

But vested interests are trying hard to make political capital out of Guru’s execution. The argument in favour of the clampdown, including a complete cable shutdown, rests primarily on the fear that the Valley might go up in flames.

The argument is not devoid of merit. Any stick is good enough to beat India in Kashmir. Not long ago the stone throwing episode snowballed into a major crisis that almost took Kashmir away from India.

The emerging situation, however, calls for a political solution rather than a mere crackdown. With the state due to go to polls, it is imperative that the main frame political players act with utmost maturity. There is need for thinking ‘out of the box’ to ensure that Guru’s death does not undermine some handsome gains made during the last few years in the Valley.

Omar Abdullah would be under tremendous pressure, including from his own ranks, to keep the Guru ghost alive to pander to local sentiment. He has the unenviable task of distancing himself from the execution decision while cohabitating with Congress in the ruling alliance.

Young Abdullah is yet India’s best bet in the Valley and Congress can indeed strengthen his hands. Partnering Congress, which is seen in the Valley as having gone suddenly tough on the terror issue, might not work to National Conference’s advantage in local polls. Can Congress allow National Conference the entire local space for larger national good?

But for now let the clampdown end so that Kashmir can get back to business.

(The writer is Editor, Zee Research Group)