For once mainstream, separatist leaders find common cause in Kashmir (Jammu and Kashmir Newsletter)
By Sheikh Qayoom, Srinagar, Mar 2 : At last, there is a cause that has found two mainstream political parties and separatist groups in the Kashmir speaking in one voice. The ruling National Conference (NC) and the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) have both demanded that the mortal remains of Afzal Guru be returned to his family, in sync with the separatists.
Separatists of all shades have also found common cause in this demand, bringing unity in their ranks.
In all this, the Congress, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, has remained silent. This is not surprising as the Congress-led central government has steadfastly refused to return Afsal Guru's remains.
Former chief minister and PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed wrote an emotional letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this week, saying that the least that can now be done to retrieve the trust between Kashmiris and the rest of the country is to return Afzal Guru's body to his family.
Sayeed said the manner in which Afsal Guru, convicted of plotting the conspiracy that led to the Dec 13, 2001, attack on parliament, was hanged Feb 9 in Delhi's Tihar Jail, after being "culled" out of 28 other convicts on death row, had deeply agonized him. Afsal Guru was buried within the jail premises.
The PDP patron said the secrecy around the execution, and the denial of a judicial review after the president rejected Afsal Guru's mercy petition, had caused the trust built between Delhi and Kashmir over the years to "evaporate".
Minutes after the PDP released Sayeed's letter to the media, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah commented on his Twitter site that he had also written a letter to the prime minister Feb 19 demanding that the mortal remains of not only Afzal Guru but also of Muhammad Maqbool Bhat, founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, who raised the demand for "Azadi" (freedom), be returned to their families.
Bhat had been hanged and buried in Tihar Jail Feb 11, 1984, after being convicted of killing an intelligence officer.
Omar Abdullah said his rivals in the PDP were playing politics by releasing the contents of Sayeed's letter to the media; he said that was what had made it necessary for him to react on the social media.
Engineer Rashid, an independent legislator who represents north Kashmir's Langate constituency in the 87-member assembly, has asked both the NC and the PDP to bring a resolution in the current session that began Thursday in winter capital Jammu to demand the return of Afzal Guru's body.
The local bar association, however, has gone further back in history on the matter than anyone else: In a demand raised during Wednesday's protests, local lawyers have demanded the return of the mortal remains of not only Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat but also of Yusuf Shah Chak.
Yusuf Shah Chak, a local ruler, had engaged with negotiations with Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 1560s. He is remembered as the last independent ruler of Kashmir, before the Mughals conquered and annexed it in 1586.
Chak was imprisoned after the Mughals conquest.
Yusuf Shah Chak died in exile, and was buried in Bihar.
On their part, the separatists have formed the Muttahida Majlis-e-Mushawarat (MMM) in the wake of Afzal Guru's hanging. Most separatist groups, whether hardline or moderate, are represented in the MMM.
The MMM has been announcing schedules of protests over the last two weeks.
The separatists have united under a joint consultative committee, with a single point agenda: The return of Afzal Guru's body to the family.
This is the first time since the 1990s that such unity across different groups has been seen in Kashmir.
It is quite likely that the NC and the PDP, which have fought elections in the past on emotive issues, have now got their catch phrase for the 2014 general elections: "Return Afzal Guru's body!"
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at email@example.com)