Hanging of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat have no subliminal connection and would not evoke the same kind of alarm in Kashmir Valley, said Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit. Bhat, co-founder of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, was hanged in Tihar Jail in 1984.
Dikshit said the unmatched survival instincts of the Congress helped it take instant, yet hard decisions. In the prism of time, they seldom turn out to be an advantage.
Guru’s case had become a battle of symbolism between the Congress and BJP over the years. The BJP decried that the Congress was too weak-kneed in its response to terrorism and went on ‘Hang Guru’ offensive for over five years.
The Congress, on the other hand, used the circumstances differently. Many believe Bhat’s hanging was done to satisfy the collective conscience of the nation, after an Indian diplomat was abducted and killed in London in February 1984. At that time, the Congress did not wish to appear weak, especially as it was besieged by militancy in Punjab.
The underlying thread is the same, even today. Guru may not be as tall a figure as Bhat in Kashmiri eyes, but the irrefutable symbolism of his arrest, imprisonment and dramatic hanging cannot escape scrutiny. He was supposed to be hanged on October 20, 2006, but the continued stone-pelting and the perception of a political backlash had apparently put it on a perpetual hold. It gave the BJP a political applecart, which the Congress now claims to have overturned with one smooth pre-Budget session action. Therein, some believe, also lie the seeds of a mid-term polls.
Bhat was a self-made Kashmiri freedom fighter who at some stage in his life also disliked Pakistan. Post-Tashkent agreement between India and Pakistan, he was arrested near Muzaffarabad and imprisoned and tortured in the Black Fort.
Guru may actually have been into terrorism purely for mercenary reasons. In one of his confessions, he is believed to have said this: “It is all about violence and money at the training camps on the other side.”
Yet the circumstances in Kashmir Valley are such that he could become an abiding symbol for the Kashmiri youth. The politics of his hanging will ensure that.
And if the main national parties are looking for electoral gains out of the Guru episode, then Omar Abdullah’s calculated responses may be an indicator of how the issue may play out. At first, Omar was half apologetic asking people for restraint. The next day, he went on the offensive, blaming the Centre for not informing Guru’s family and not allowing them a meeting.
It is a fine see-saw. The only thing Congress may have earned now is a brief respite.