On February 11, 1984, the Indira Gandhi government green-signalled the hanging of Kashmiri separatist Maqbool Bhat inside Tihar jail. The hanging was carried out abruptly, five days after the killing of an Indian diplomat, Ravindra Mhatre, in the UK by an affiliate of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which had inflamed public sentiments. Bhat’s body was not returned to his family, which sparked widespread fury in Kashmir and bolstered anti-India sentiments.
Bhat had been convicted and sentenced to death as early as in 1966 for murdering a CID official. However, in December 1968, he had escaped to Pakistan. After he was recaptured by Indian forces in 1976 when he came into to J&K again, the Supreme Court in 1978 upheld his death sentence. When he was hanged in 1984, it stirred the imagination of the Kashmiri masses and Bhat became a symbol of resistance that would linger.
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By 1987, the atmosphere in the Valley was tense, aggravated by the allegedly rigged elections earlier that year. Despite overwhelming popularity, several candidates of the Muslim United Front, a coalition of Islamic Kashmiri political parties and challenger to the National Conference-Congress combine, were declared defeated, including Mohammad Yousuf Shah, who would eventually escape to Pakistan, take the alias Syed Salahuddin, and form the United Jehad Council.
Besides this growing anti-India feeling, other factors contributed at this time to the eventual eruption of militancy in Kashmir in January 1990. Chief among these was the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988-89, which led to large numbers of Kashmiri youths romanticising the idea of armed rebellion against what they considered an occupying force.
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The JKLF was at the forefront of this armed uprising. In December 1989, JKLF guerrillas kidnapped Dr Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of then Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, a Kashmiri. The government later secured her release by releasing five JKLF terrorists. For many observers, this is seen as the defining moment that would go on to trigger full-scale militancy in the Kashmir Valley and the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandit community.