Why govt must hand over Guru's body to quell protest in J&K

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Peace in Kashmir valley is a tricky issue. The valley has experienced it since ages. Once again Kashmir is simmering with tension. Large-scale presence of security forces has hijacked the freedom of Kashmir. And, the ongoing curfew and protests have brought back the memories of turmoil of 1990s. This time Kashmir is fighting to get back the body of 2001 Parliament attack case convict Mohammed Afzal Guru.

Guru was hanged and buried inside the premises of Tihar jail on Feb 9. Family has appealed to the government to return back the body. Jammu and Kashmir government has forwarded to the Centre a letter written by Afzal's wife Tabassum, demanding handing over of the body. But, it seems that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is adamant on its stand. Sources say, government won't concede to the request, fearing serious law and order problems in the Valley.

Protest in Jammu and Kashmir

"The government will take a final decision on the issue soon...The Jammu and Kashmir government will be asked to convey it to Afzal Guru's family," a senior MHA official said.

Why is government afraid? There are many theories making the rounds. The first theory says, if government relents and hands over the body, separatists would turn Guru into a martyr.

Moreover, his family members and friends have dug up an empty grave for Guru at Srinagar's Martyr's Graveyard. The empty grave lies next to a similar empty grave for Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) founder Maqbool Bhat. Bhat was also hanged and buried in Tihar Jail on February 11, 1984.

The epitaph on Guru's empty grave reads: Mohammad Afzal Guru Shaheed-e-Watan (martyrs' graveyard).

But, if government does not return Guru's body, tension in Kashmir is surely going to escalate. Previous experiences show how failure of government to understand sentiments of Kashmir and Kashmiris have backfired them.

It seems history repeats itself and that too with great cruelty. Almost 29 years back Mohammad Maqbool Bhat was hanged, ironically in the same month and in the same jail. Death of Bhat, the pro-independence leader and co-founder of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front triggered sentiments of "Azaadi" in valley. Thousands of youth crossed the border and went to Pakistan to get themselves trained in arms and ammunition to fight for their freedom.

Since 90s when Kashmiri youth started their struggle for self-determination, reports say 68,000 people have died, 10,000 have disappeared, and at least 100,000 have been tortured.

Once again similar fate awaits Kashmir?

Observers say Kashmir was calm and quiet before the hanging of Guru. Situations were almost similar during Bhat's execution time. But, tension hit back Kashmir on both the occasions (hanging of Guru and Bhat). Sentiments of alienation in Kashmir has reached a high point. And, an adamant central government is not going to relent to the request of Guru's family and Kashmiris.

It seems army, which controls the valley with an iron-fist does not want government to return back Guru's body. Sources say army feels the burial site of Guru would serve as a rallying point for anti-India forces and the separatists.

However, all political parties, including Congress in Jammu and Kashmir is asking the central government to return back the mortal remains of Guru to his family.

Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rashid, the independent MLA from Langate in north Kashmir, has filed a resolution in the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly asking for a discussion the matter.

"I had invited mainstream parties, including the ruling National Conference (NC), for an all-party meeting on Monday to chalk out a joint strategy to a send a team of legislators and political leaders to the Centre to convey the sentiments of the people of Kashmir for the return of Afzal's body to his family," said Rashid.

"We should go to Delhi as a united front and ask for Afzal's mortal remains," added Rashid.

Moreover, for the first time Prime Minister's office on Monday, Feb 18 spoke on the issue of return of Guru's body to family. Sources say, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is ready to discuss the issue in the forthcoming budget session of Parliament.

Why the government is turning a humanitarian issue into political one?

Hanging of Guru itself is seen by many as a political decision of the government. The secrecy with which he was executed itself speaks the whole story. Analysts say the rise of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi into a national leader caused panic among the Congress leaders. They thought executing Guru would help them gain Hindu votes. Only time will tell whether politics surrounding Guru's hanging served Congress-led UPA government's goals.

Again handing over Guru's body has become a political issue. How long the dead body of a terrorist can serve the purpose of politicians? Perhaps, it does, otherwise why so much politics is involved around Afzal Guru, even in life and death.

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