Is Burhan Wani’s father Kashmir’s new hope?

The Hurriyat says he’s backed by Indian intelligence, but for many Kashmiri youth, Muzaffar Wani has risen as a leader

WrittenBy:Anurag Tripathi
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Muzaffar Ahmed Wani’s home in Dadsara village of Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district has turned into a shrine. Until two months ago, this three-storeyed, whitewashed building wasn’t particularly noteworthy. It was the home of a schoolteacher, of Master Saheb, as Wani is known locally. All that has changed since July 8 and the 52-day long curfew that followed the killing of Wani’s son and Hizbul Mujahideen leader, Burhan Wani. It’s the longest curfew period that Kashmir has undergone in its turbulent history and somewhere along the way, in these past two months, Wani has become the one whose blessings are sought and upon whom Kashmiri hopes are pinned.


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There’s a steady stream of visitors who come to pay respect to Wani every day. Many are young men who are starstruck by Burhan. They stand in queue to kiss Wani’s hand, perhaps because it’s the closest they can get to his son, but also because Wani has come to symbolise something special in Kashmir: the spirit of the struggle for azadi. “He has given two sons to Kashmir cause,” said 23-year-old Waseem Parray, a postgraduate student of history. Wani’s other son and Burhan’s elder brother Khalid Muzaffar Wani was killed in an ambush by the Indian Army on April 13, 2015. He had been coming back after meeting Burhan who was in hiding. “We can’t overlook his [Muzaffar’s] sacrifice,” said Parray.

“Log jaante hain main Burhan ka pita hun (People know I’m Burhan’s father),” Wani told Newslaundry.  “Woh itna mashoor hain ab log mujhe bhi leader banane lage. Magar main apne ko leader nahi manta. Main ek aam Kashmiri hun aur logo tak apni baat pahuchana chahta hun (Burhan was so famous that now people are turning me into a leader too. But I don’t see myself as a leader. I’m an average Kashmiri and I just want to be heard).” Despite these demurrals, Wani is cautiously but steadily stepping into the political limelight.

“In last 23 years, after the formation of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), no new leader has emerged in Kashmir who could take forward the agenda of Azad Kashmir,” said Riyaz Wani, a journalist with Tehelka who is based in J&K and unrelated to Muzaffar Wani.  “Most of these separatist leaders play to the gallery of Islamabad. Wani is trying to fit in that political space lying vacant since last two decades.”

Once a formidable force in Kashmir, the Hurriyat has been reduced to a shadow of its former self by infighting. While Syed Ali Shah Geelani continues to be an influential figure, the group has splintered into warring factions. In 2014, the Hurriyat issued a diktat to boycott the J&K assembly elections. Despite this, there was a record turnout. This would have been unimaginable in the 1990s.

Hurriyat leaders like Geelani understand that the anger spilling on the roads of the Valley is one they can’t control. Not just that, the average Kashmiri knows it too. “Unless, Hurriyat doesn’t call off hartal calendars, curfew relaxations will not make a difference beyond a point,” said Abdul Hamid, a shopkeeper at Lal Chowk. “And Hurriyat itself cannot do it unless the anger on the street dies down.” One person who has grown in stature in this atmosphere has been Muzaffar Wani, with the halo of being a martyr’s father.

According to some locals, Wani is a source of discomfort to the Hurriyat. On one hand, he talks like a separatist leader, like when he spoke of Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent visit to Kashmir to Newslaundry. “Mujhe to lagta hain woh yahan picnic manane aaye they (I think he came to Kashmir to picnic),” he said. His staunch support of his son Burhan contains in it the message of azadi that has been the Kashmiri dream for decades now. “Woh Hindustan ke liye terrorist hain, hamare liye to who mujahid hain (He’s a terrorist for Hindustan, but he is our freedom fighter),” Wani said of Burhan, going on to liken Burhan’s relationship with the Indian state to that between Bhagat Singh and the British colonial government. “Jis tarah se aap Bhagat Singh ko freedom fighter maante hain, magar us samay woh British government ki nazar mein terrorist they. India ko Azaadi ke baad Bhaghat Singh ko saheed ka darja mila. Isi tarah Burhan Wani ka role Kashmir ki azadi mein hain, (Bhagat Singh was a terrorist for the British government, but when India got freedom he was called a martyr. Similarly, Burhan Wani will be known for his role in Kashmir’s independence).

On the other hand, Wani is also diplomatic when he speaks of India and recent trips like the one he made to visit Sri Sri Ravishankar have raised his profile. Even though he has said the Indian government should have unconditional talks with Hurriyat, Wani is apparently not one who inspires confidence in them.

“Hurriyat leaders have exploited Kashmir situation to their suitability,” said a journalist, who has worked in the Valley for the past two decades. “Also Indian intelligence agencies have their fill of woes while engaging the top few names of Hurriyat.  Intelligence agencies feel, why not to pitch Wani as a prime negotiator from separatist side?” He added, “It only helps that he [Wani] is quite media savvy.”

Hurriyat’s propaganda machinery has started working overtime to project Wani as someone who has a soft spot for India. It’s been particularly critical of his recent meeting with Sri Sri Ravishankar and this seems to have made an impact. In Kashmir Reader, one Jaaved Ali wrote this letter:

“I fail to understand why Burhan’s father, Mr Muzaffar Wani, met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the time when Kashmir is burning over the death of his son. The reason he cited was that he was there for treatment and that he had to get medicine for his ailments. But how can he justify it when the Kashmir is caged for the last 50 days and people don’t get even food for babies?” 

The Hurriyat has raised questions about how Wani was able to afford this trip and there are also rumours that his meeting with Shankar was arranged by India’s Research and Analysis Wing , all of which Wani has obviously denied. However, the fact is he did manage to travel out of out of Kashmir while it was writhing under the longest curfew period it has known in its history. It’s questionable whether this would have been possible without some degree of support from the government. While the trip has dented Wani’s image in Kashmir a little, it has also introduced him as a Kashmiri leader to the rest of India, thanks to the publicity that comes from meeting Sri Sri Ravishankar.

The question is whether Muzaffar Wani will be able to hold on to the adoration he’s getting from people like Parray, while he walks the tightrope between Indian agencies and the Hurriyat. What would probably worry the Hurriyat is that even the taint of associating with the mainland doesn’t deter those who look up to Muzaffar, like Parray. “Even if he has met Sri Sri, it doesn’t detract from his ultimate sacrifice for Kashmir,” said Parray. “He has given a new hope to Azad Kashmir movement.”


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