Distress Call

  • Bilal Handoo
  • Publish Date: Apr 13 2017 12:25PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 13 2017 12:25PM
Distress Call

                                                            Photo: Kashmir Ink

Facing a tough election, Farooq Abdullah appeals to ‘brothers in Jamaat-e-Islami’ for help. Will they play ball?


At Jamaat-e-Islami’s headquarters in Batamaloo, Srinagar, the mood is light. Four men, all sporting short beards, exchange banter over Farooq Abdullah’s latest wordplay.

“This man is impossible,” says one of them. “No one can match him in doing politics of relevance. Sometimes ago, the man was exhorting his partymen to support Azadi, and now he is seeking our support.”

Addressing an election campaign meeting at Gund Kangan on 3 April, Abdullah described supporters of the Jamaat as “brothers” and sought their help “so that we can collectively fight against the RSS with honour and courage” and “protect the identity of Kashmiris”.

The former chief minister is campaigning for the impending by-election to the Srinagar parliamentary seat.

So, will the “brothers” oblige him?

Abdul Qayoom Bhat fled his native Bandipora in the mid-90s after suffering persecution at the hands of the Ikhwanis. Now in his mid-40s and settled in Habba Kadal, Srinagar, he tells of the terror unleashed by the Ikhwanis led by Kukka Parray at the “behest” of Abdullah’s National Conference.

“I heard the man [Abdullah] saying, ‘These Jamaatis are a nuisance and must be taught a lesson’ when Kuka Parray and his men were baying for the blood of Jamaatis,” says Qayoom, a teacher. “So, like many others, I had to flee that Ikhwan dragnet and find a new home in this city.”

“And now,” Qayoom continues, “the man who once patronised our killers wants our support.” It’s not happening, he seems to convey. In any case, Qayoom adds, it’s not like Abdullah’s appeal is sincere. It is just another of his election-time “political tricks”.

The timing of Abdullah’s appeal for reconciliation has especially rankled the more historically-minded of the Jamaatis. It was on 4 April 1979 that the National Conference, led by Sheikh Abdullah, unleashed a brutal crackdown on the Jamaat in the wake of protest demonstrations over Pakistani PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s assassination. It’s still marked as “black day” by the Jamaat. Indeed, despite the Jamaat Ameer Moulana Saad-ud-Din declaring amnesty for the perpetrators, not many have forgotten how “NC goons” cut down their apple orchards, ransacked their houses, bled their families and desecrated “their” Quran.

“It was a clear conspiracy against the Jamaat by the NC government,” says Imran Nazir, a former Jamaat member who as a pre-teen saw his ancestral home in Shopian going up in flames that April day. “Sheikh Abdullah’s regime was responsible for that bloody episode.”

In the murderous rioting, two Jamaat members -- Abdul Rehman of Islamabad and Mohammad Akbar Lone of Sopore -- were killed. In his Tehreek-e-Islami, Aashiq Kashmiri records the estimated damage: “1,245 residential houses were burnt, 466 homes looted, 338 shops gutted, 513 granaries burnt, 70 apple orchards destroyed, 509 cow sheds torched, 24 Jamaat offices razed.”

Shaban Mir, 55, of Shopian was among those who lost their homes that day. Today, the banker sees Abdullah’s appeal at Gund as nothing more than “politics of opportunism”. “Until yesterday, Dr Farooq and his party members were shouting at the top of their voice: ‘Jamaat is responsible for PDP’s creation’. Now the same man wants our support to counter the PDP and its ally. For us, the NC is no different than the Sangh,” says Mir, who describes himself as “textbook Jamaati”. “How come we are suddenly his ‘brothers’ now that the elections are around?”

Although repeatedly trashed by the Jamaat leaders, the perception that the organisation enabled, even assisted, the rise of the PDP, especially in South Kashmir, has taken root in popular discourse. “Actually, it was the NC that popularised the notion that Jamaatis in the countryside vote for PDP when, as a matter of fact, they never do,” says the legal scholar and commentator Prof Sheikh Showkat.

There exist in rural Kashmir two vote banks, Prof Showkat explains. “One is the NC’s, the other is anti-NC. The latter is being confused as the PDP’s vote bank when it belongs to anyone contesting against the NC.” As for the Jamaatis, he adds, “they have suffered under both NC and PDP rule”.

Prof Showkat recalls hearing a speech by Sheikh Abdullah in the late 1960s. In it, the founder of the NC thanked the Jamaat for preventing “character assassination” of Kashmiris by the Indian agencies while the “lion” was caged. But when Abdullah took power in 1975 after binning the Plebiscite Movement, he banned the Jamaat, Prof Showkat adds. “Then it was Sheikh’s son, the mercurial Farooq Abdullah, who rigged the 1987 election fearing the Jamaat’s rise as a force to reckon with.”

The Jamaat contested the 1987 assembly election as a constituent of the Muslim United Front. The election was rigged in favour of the NC at the behest of Rajiv Gandhi’s central government. This electoral injustice became the immediate cause for the eruption of the armed rebellion in Kashmir.

Although it no longer participates in mainstream politics, the Jamaat can wield immense influence on elections, not least because of its reach and cadre strength. Indeed, Abdullah’s appeal seems to be an attempt to harness, or negate, this influence rather than being a sincere plea for rapprochement in the service of a “larger battle”.

Perceptive Jamaat leaders realise as much. “You need to understand the timing of this statement,” says a leader of the organisation, asking not to be identified because he isn’t authorised to speak to the press. “It came a day before 4th April and was clearly aimed at forcing the Jamaat to announce an election boycott.”

“The NC and the Jamaat are the only cadre-based parties in Kashmir,” the leader explains. In case the Jamaat boycotts, the NC will have an upper hand and the PDP with its fluid vote bank will be a clear loser.”

So, will the Jamaat call for a boycott? It hasn’t been announced publicly, but a senior Jamaat leader says “the cadre has been asked to stay away from the election.”  

Still, the Jamaat is willing to back Abdullah if, that is, he fulfils one condition. The Jamaat spokesman Advocate Zahid Ali puts it thus: “Support our Islamic movement, get our support”.