K. Ramachandra Murthy
Shujaat Bukhari was the quintessence of ‘Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaniyat’ that former prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee promised to the people of Kashmir. The founder and editor-in-chief of ‘Rising Kashmir’ was more than a journalist. He was a pacifist and a pragmatic peacemaker. He was proud of his Kashmiri origin. He loved Kashmiri culture, language and literature. The Kashmiri language protection body, ‘Adabi Markaz Kamaraz’, was instrumental in reviving Kashimiri language as a subject in the schools till tenth standard after a gap of three decades. Everything and anything to do with Kashmiriyat was very close to his heart. Being fair, decent and courageous, Shujaat was a role model for many a budding journalist in Kashmir. He was known as a liberal democrat. Strengthening the concept of parliamentary democracy (jamhooriyat) through objective and fearless journalism was his passion. There can be no doubt that Shujaat (valiant), was true to his name as a journalist, in his fierce commitment to the cause of truth, peace and democracy.
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The turmoil in the valley produced a number of brave and committed journalists who have been working in the most difficult circumstances. They walk on razor’s edge all the time. Shujaat was their guide and a source of inspiration. ‘Rising Kashmir’ has been a training stable for young journalists many of whom are women. The journalists and other employees at ‘Rising Kashmir,’ showed great grit and strong commitment when they worked through the evening till small hours to bring out the issue for the day after the ghastly murder of their beloved boss. With eight special stories on the murder, they published 16 pages instead of the eight pages they give daily. That was the spirit they imbibed from their mentor. It was a fitting tribute paid by the team to their multi-faceted editor.
‘Dialogue is superior to slogans and violence,’ was a line repeated by Shujaat at a number of conferences for over two decades. He was sincere in practising journalism in a place where it is extremely dangerous to be truthful, independent and objective. “It is impossible to distinguish our enemies from our friends,” he used to say. Shujaat was the first to express pain and anguish whenever there was a loss of Kashmiri life, be it a civilian, policeman, militant or a jawan. Human values (Insaniat) were on the top of his mind. It is a matter of sheer coincidence that the practitioner of these three principles was killed at a time when the statesman who enunciated (Vajpayee) them was recuperating at a Delhi hospital.
I met Shujaat Bukhari in 2010 when the valley was burning. More than a hundred angry teenage protestors were killed by paramilitary forces when the youngsters defied prohibitory orders and faced machine guns with just stones in their hands. I went there a few days after the situation was brought under control. Senior reporter Jameel-ur-Rehman and the highly gifted cameraman, Giridhar Nakka, my colleagues at HMTV, accompanied me. It was a risky proposition for any journalist to visit Srinagar at that point in time. We not only went there, but also interviewed Syed Ali Shah Gilani, the pro-Pakistan separatist leader, who was under house arrest. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of Hurriyat Conference, and JKLF chief Yasin Malik and many other leaders were among those we interviewed. At the end of the 12-day stay, we organised a roundtable conference in Srinagar. Professors of Srinagar University, rights activists, journalists and civil society leaders participated in full strength in a heated, though elevating, debate.
Shujaat was sitting with me throughout the show introducing the speakers and helping me to conduct the proceedings meaningfully. I had two one-on-one sessions with Shujaat in which we discussed everything under the Sun. The situation in Kashmir, its history and the perspective were clearly explained to me. We also talked about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Taliban and the terrorist outfits operating from Pakistan. Balagopal, a renowned rights activist who died in 2009, was very close to the hearts of Kashmiri human rights activists. Shujaat inquired about Balagopal’s family. In fact, Balagopal’s name was mentioned by almost every speaker at the seminar since I belong to (undivided) Andhra Pradesh. We later met in Delhi at India International Centre (IIC) conference of editors. He also visited Hyderabad. After he left the Hindu, I got him to write for The Hans India, the newspaper I was editing, whenever there was a significant development in the valley. A warm, intelligent and resourceful friend, Shujaat was always forthcoming with his analysis on any issue connected to Kashmir. He had his brother in Mehbooba Mufti’s cabinet. At least half-a-dozen army generals feel free to discuss important matters with him. Hurriyat leaders respect him. Shujaat had the gumption to question former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif on the latter’s attitude towards Kashmir. He was always a straight, no-nonsense player. That was why a number of tall leaders like Omar Abdullah and Yasin Malik attended his funeral at his native place in Baramulla district.
Shujaat Bukhari was involved in track-2 diplomacy between India and Pakistan involving members of civil societies in both the countries. Meetings have been held at various places across the US, Europe and Asia. In the last meeting in Dubai, the members of the pressure group, called Reconciliation Resources, came up with the idea of passing a resolution demanding that both India and Pakistan declare ceasefire. Ultimately, the idea was given up. However, it went viral on social media prompting Hizbul Mujahideen chief Salahuddin to comment that those who participated in the meeting were stooges of Indian intelligence agencies and Indian Army. Terrorists would like to keep the Kashmiri pot boiling, not allowing things to settle down. Whenever there is an initiative to bring peace to the people who are struggling under the yoke of India-Pakistan rivalry, the terrorists strike. The target this time happened to be a journalist, Shujaat Bukhari. A bright, honest and bold interlocutor was removed from the scene causing a severe setback to the process of reconciliation in the strife-ridden valley.