All stake holders in Kashmir are uneasy about the sudden outbursts of azadi (freedom) reverberating in the air: the security forces are uneasy because of the mood of the people; the separatists are uneasy as they lack the platform that can keep them together for long; the regional political parties are uneasy as they appear to have been rendered unnecessary; New Delhi is uneasy about the implications of large peaceful congregations chanting azadi; and Pakistan is uneasy as it is woefully unprepared to exploit it. The uneasiness is about how to interpret azadi. Is it a secessionist call for independence from India? Is it a catchy slogan meant to achieve more than autonomy but less than complete independence? Is it meant to boo the authorities who are perceived to be high-handed and unreasonable; or is it an answer to vandalism in Jammu.
While the answer could be any of the above, two issues are indeed striking: just when everyone thought that things were back to normal and that the people were contend going about their lives, reality dawned that the sentiment of azadi was still alive. It simply needed a good reason to come to the fore. And importantly, majority of people chanting and swaying to the azadi tune were youngsters born in late Eighties; really the children who had known azadi as their lullaby.
But things are not as ominous as they appear.
For one, the situation is certainly not back to the Nineties. What sparked the present unrest was really the anger of the fruit growers who after hours of wait were unable to meet the visiting Union home minister. Sensing the opportunity, the separatists organised the ‘Muzzaffarabad Chalo’ march under the hastily formed Kashmir Co-ordination Committee, a motley gathering of separatists of all hues and various other associations of fruit growers, merchants, lawyers, students and so on. In essence thus, the crowds were not spontaneous but spurred by the Separatists, who after the success of the Muzzaffarabad march were hard pressed to stay together for the Pampore and Idgah marches, and had announced the sit-in protest at Lal Chowk as well. The rallies did not trouble Governor N.N. Vohra, who believed that the calming of Jammu would automatically take the wind off the sails of the Kashmir unrest. However, this is not how New Delhi read the situation. After the visit of the National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan to Kashmir, it was reasoned that more rallies would help the Separatists craft a common minimum programme. Consequently, the azadi calls would assume a hardened connotation, and hence people could not be allowed a field day.