Srinagar, Nov 24, 2022- Law Secretary’s Achal Sethi’s complaint to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, seeking action under the Advocates Act, 1961, against three senior Kashmiri lawyers is unprecedented and pregnant with consequences for Kashmir’s 33-year-long separatist movement. All the three, accused of ‘professional misconduct’ and anti-national motivation, have served as Presidents of Kashmir’s High Court Bar Association (HCBA).
The latest action against the three leading advocates could well end up in cancellation of their licences if the High Court’s Disciplinary Committee is not satisfied with their explanations. It can bury the separatist activism in the Bar forever.
While senior advocate Mian Abdul Qayoom has been inclined towards the separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Nazir Ahmad Ronga has lived in close proximity to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Ghulam Nabi Thoker alias Shaheen has also been a high profile separatist.
For 10 years, from 1993 to 2003, the HCBA functioned as a constituent of the General Council of the secessionist conglomerate ‘All-party Hurriyat Conference’ (APHC). Like the APHC, which comprised 26 political, religious, social and other organisations, including a representative union of the Jammu and Kashmir Government employees, the HCBA called for “resolution of the Kashmir dispute as per the UN resolutions of 1948-49 or tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris”.
Like the APHC, the HCBA too campaigned against the alleged human rights violations by the Police and security forces against the people of Kashmir, visited the residences of the militants killed in encounters with floral tributes, contested detentions of militants and separatists in different courts and left no stone unturned to paint India, its security forces and institutions black. It enjoyed unflinching support of the separatists and the militants. At least on one occasion, a Pakistan-based jihadist outfit issued a diktat, asking a particular candidate’s rivals to withdraw nominations from the Presidential election.
When a delegation of the Pakistani journalists visited the old High Court complex in Srinagar during Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s first term as Chief Minister, the slogans at the premises included “Yahan kya chalega: Nizaam-e-Mustafa”.
During his cross-examination by advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad, in the HCBA’s contempt case against the Kot Bhalwal Jail Superintendent Mirza Saleem Beg on 7 April, 2010, Qayoom said audaciously in the court of Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir that he didn’t consider himself as an Indian citizen. According to a report in a local newspaper, he also asserted that he did not believe in the Indian Constitution.
Notwithstanding hundreds of such statements and demonstrations, no government disputed Qayoom or his colleagues’ credentials as licensed legal practitioners. Until today, the government has never banned either the APHC or the HCBA. For decades, it added to the aura and influence of the separatist leaders and the HCBA’s top functionaries. Even the IAS and IPS officers hired the services of these powerful advocates in their service and private litigations.
On at least one occasion at the SKICC, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Farooq Abdullah were seen standing up and greeting the JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar and some HCBA stalwarts. It passed off as a ‘routine’ for about 30 years. Of the three senior advocates, Qayoom happens to be senior to even the top Hurriyat leaders in espousing the cause of ‘Azadi’. In 1990, three years before APHC’s creation when most of the separatist-leaning Kashmiri leaders were in jail, Qayoom launched and headed ‘Tehreek-e-Hurriyat’.
Finally the downswing began after Mehbooba Mufti’s withdrawal of support by the BJP and resultant dismissal as Chief Minister in June 2018. A major terror strike in which 40 CRPF men were killed on the Srinagar-Jammu highway near Awantipora in February 2019 put the BJP under pressure ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. For the first time, security cover and VIP status was withdrawn from most of the separatist leaders. Some of them like Yasin Malik and Bitta Karate were arrested and lodged in the Tihar Jail. Others were placed under ‘house arrest’.
By the time elections concluded with a resounding victory for the BJP, New Delhi had identified all the vehicles of the separatist movement. It lost no time to achieve the key target-withdrawal of the special status, abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A and J&K’s split into the two separate Union Territories-which was on the BJP’s agenda since its birth.
The BJP Government at the Centre devised a strategy to eliminate particular 15 targets-some simultaneously and some one after another. As the Azadi’s most important hiding place-Article 370-was dismantled with no resistance on the streets, New Delhi launched a synchronised drive to eliminate the militants and the stone pelters with an effective suppression of their driving sentiment. As the chronic stone pelting stopped, there were no bullets or pellets from the security forces on the civilians.
In a short span of time, most of the ring leaders of stone pelters were rounded up, detained and released after a long time. It took the Police and the security forces nearly two years to completely wipe out leadership of all the three formidable terror outfits-Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen.
Simultaneously there was a concerted crackdown on the separatists’ advocates in the mainstream political parties. Around 30 mainstream politicians, including three former Chief Ministers, were arrested and detained for around a year. The detainees included former Ministers and legislators known for lending legitimacy to secessionism and terrorism and condoning the terrorist violence with their equivocation or total silence. In fact the last unapologetic pro-Indian voice had been muted and a culture of competitive separatism permitted since 1999.
After militants, stone pelters, and separatist/mainstream politicians, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in the BJP’s second term dealt gently with the students but harshly with the so-called human rights activists. The most prominent of them, Khurram Pervez, was arrested and booked in a terror funding case. The Government employees, who were on the forefront of enforcing the separatists’ and the militants’ shutdown calls for 30 years, disassociated themselves with the Azadi as a number of such activists were dismissed from service.
Witnessing the ferocity of the unprecedented crackdown on what Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha have named ‘ecosystem of terrorism’, the other vehicles of secessionism deflated automatically. They included academia, clergy and traders who had remained on the forefront of all Azadi demonstrations since 1990. Ironically the most radicalised faculty members were granted service extensions in a Central University after their retirement in the State Universities.
Then came the turn of dealing with two formidable fortresses of the “5th Generation Warfare” or the “War of Narrative”-the social media and the conventional media. Unfazed by criticism from the international Press, at least eight mediapersons were either booked or arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention Act). Three of them were directly charged with operating as militants or their associates or harbourers. From one of them, a hand grenade was recovered.
A Press club, which had been hugely dominated by the journalists selectively condemning the State repression but condoning threats to media from terrorists, was terminated amid confrontation between the so-called ‘pro-azadi’ and pro-India journalists. Some Srinagar-based newspapers, who had emerged as robust platforms for separatists and militants for years, were tamed and transformed with stoppage and release of the government’s paid advertisements. Now the front pages of such newspapers are dominated by news stories and pictures of the PM, the HM and the LG and for the first time ‘militants’ are called ‘terrorists’.
A concurrent drive has, to a large extent, silenced or disciplined the social media as many of the offenders have been booked or arrested. (Agency)