The moment the word “separatist” is used in India, it conjures the image of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and their colleagues of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in Kashmir, who subscribe to this ideology.

In the context of India’s freedom struggle in the twentieth century, however, use of the ideology of separatism as a political tool in Kashmir goes as far back as 1931 when some Muslim pressure groups based in Lahore unleashed a fierce propaganda against the ruling monarchy in Jammu and Kashmir with Maharaja Hari Singh at its helm.

The propagandists found in Sheikh Abdullah an able conduit to further their activities. He was, at that stage, a budding revolutionary and leader of the Muslim Conference.

Sheikh Abdullah realised all too soon that the secular bonds of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir could not be broken -, not even in the Kashmir Valley where his politics held sway. He, therefore, changed the name of his political organisation from Muslim Conference to National Conference and opposed the idea of Pakistan being propagated by Mohd. Ali Jinnah. 

“The ideological home of secular Kashmiri’s was always India,” was the grandiose posture that Sheikh Abdullah adopted to strengthen his support base in the state while challenging the Dogra rule.

Thus, while the whole of India was fighting to gain independence from the British yoke, Sheikh Abdullah and his ilk in Kashmir were fighting for “separation” from the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

As such, separation from India was definitely not an agenda for the people of the Kashmir Valley or its political leaders.

It is notable that all through the Pakistan sponsored tribal invasion of Jammu and Kashmir, the people of the region supported the Indian Army to repel the attack. In fact, the Kashmiri people were very anti-Pakistan because of the brutal atrocities that the invading hordes of Pakistani mercenaries heaped upon them.

In other words, the people of Kashmir were quite eager to join the Indian Union and they fought for the same post the independence of country.

Sheikh Abdullah, as chief minister of the state and with a brute majority in the state assembly started speaking about revocation of accession in 1953 a good six years after Jammu and Kashmir had been firmly embedded as an integral part of India that

The support that Sheikh Abdullah elicited for his self serving agenda came  from brutal majority that he held in the state mainly due to a warped formation of constituencies which favoured the Kashmir Valley more than Jammu and Ladakh regions.

This uneven distribution of constituencies continues till date since successive Kashmir centric governments are steamrolling all efforts to carry out a long overdue delimitation of the constituencies, because, constituencies more in tune with the existing geographic and demographic realities of the state would break the stranglehold that the Kashmir Valley presently enjoys on the political spectrum of the state.

Sheikh Abdullah could not get what he wanted and he was arrested. His arrest did not cause much disruption in the state including the Kashmir Valley. This gave a clear indication of the people not being with him on the issue of secession from the Indian Union.

Sheikh Abdullah managed to come back to power and resurrect his party, the National Conference in 1975 after signing the ignominious “Delhi Accord” with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Till then there was no separatist wave in the region.

The current situation of separatism came by in 1987 when certain local leaders of Kashmir revolted against the elections to the state Legislative Assembly on grounds of the same being rigged. Chief among them were the Abdul Ghani Lone, Yasin Malik, Syed Sallahuddin who continue to gave momentum to the separatist moment at that stage and continue doing so.

The circumstances signify that the “ideology of separatism” has always been used for playing dirty, self serving politics at the local level in the Kashmir Valley. It has always been the handiwork of a few local political players in their attempt to gain power.

The Indian Union has little role to play in the basic ills of corruption, nepotism, and political brinkmanship on the basis of which secession is sought through the ideology of separatism.

Today, the word “separatist” evokes a feeling of dreadfulness and dismay among the common, normal and hardworking people of Kashmir. This is because they look upon separatists as a set of people whose only contribution to their society is disruption and divisiveness leading to terrible economic loss and social suffering.

The misfortune of the Kashmir valley is aggravated by “separatism” being exploited as a political tool by foreign powers to fan divisive and disruptive activities. All terrorist groups operating in the state maintain affiliations with some separatist group.

The fatuousness of the separatist ideology becomes apparent from the disparate demands that are made under its ambit. Some separatist leaders want freedom while others wish to align with Pakistan. None have a practical road map for running of the state under any of the said options. The entire ideology reeks of anarchism.

Separatists have separated the state, especially the people of Kashmir into small sub-separatist groups - Sufi versus Wahabi; Shia versus Sunni versus Pahari; urban versus rural - the number of groups existing now are too many to count.

Dissatisfaction with the democratic processes is the product of deliberate propaganda. It is given wind by misrepresentation of facts. In actuality, the people want democracy and vouch for it in all elections from grass roots upwards.

Separatism is a self serving agenda that thrives on foreign funding and has no base whatsoever. It resurrected at will by political forces of the valley for political gains, without giving the slightest thought to negative effect that it has on the lives of the common man.

The time has come to expose this evil and nip it in the bud. Such an initiative should come from the people and should get the support of all pillars of the state.

(Jasbir Sarai is a prominent leader of AAP in Punjab)