Return of the Ameer After taking over as Ameer (chief)

  • Aditya Sinha
  • Publish Date: Jan 19 2016 2:56PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 12 2016 6:55PM
Return of the Ameer After taking over as Ameer (chief)

After taking over as Ameer (chief) Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir for the fourth time, the otherwise outspoken Ghulam Mohammad Bhat has been carefully choosing his words. Be it his first statement about Jamaat’s traditional stance on the Kashmir dispute or his assertion against beef ban, everything has been in line with expected party policy. But skeptics believe that elevating Bhat to the topmost position in state’s largest religio-political party will have its share of consequences in the near future.
Bhat, 79, is no stranger to controversies as his love to assert his command and experiment with new ideas has made him a known figure inside the party as well as outside. During his second stint as Ameer, he literally shook the entire separatist landscape in 1998 when he declared that his party has no links with any militant party, Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) included. The statement came as a shock to thousands of party followers including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was quick to denounce the stand as being of Bhat’s own rather than of the whole party. Despite the pressure, Bhat stood his ground and didn’t retract his statement. Over the years his strategy worked and the party flourished by shedding militant baggage.
At the onset of militancy, HM chairman Mohammed Ahsan Dar had announced that the militant organization is the military wing of JeI. The Jamaat gave a subtle permission as the statement was never contested and thus the bond between the two was thought to be unbreakable. Bhat’s severing of ties came with its share of damage too. Geelani’s relationship with Jamaat, particularly with Bhat, strained resulting in the former floating his own party, Tehreek e Hurriyat. With leaders like JeI veteran Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai also joining Geelani, the mother party faced a division in its ranks at the highest level. The only thing that kept the two parties from indulging in public spat was its cadre. The members from JeI were also the members of TeH and the arrangement suited both.
Though the relationship stabilized after new Ameer took over Jamaat, however, with Bhat again at the helm of affairs in JeI, the relationship will again come under focus.
According to sources, Bhat always wanted to have independent status of Jamaat far away from the dominating shade of Geelani. “If not 100 percent, he was successful by let us say 70-80 percent,” said an insider. “As one party’s member is another part’s rukun too, so complete segregation is impossible but yes Bhat did what others in Jamaat thought was impossible to achieve.”
Given Bhat’s significance in becoming its Ameer due to varied reasons, JeI has decided to keep the entire event a low key affair. Bhat has even decided to shun media for the time being.
“The decision to remain away from media glare was sort of his voluntary decision,” said a JeI member. “Bhat is known for his stand against Geelani and other controversies and at times these things overshadow his entire work. Now Bhat wants to do something useful outside the media gaze. He wants to leave a different legacy and he wants to work for it without any baggage.”
Bhat and Geelani both come from restive Sopore and have a long association with each other.
The members vouch for Bhat’s practical approach and say that he has a history of taking hard decisions. In 1965, Bhat, who holds BA, BEd degrees, was facing a dilemma as all government employee members of JeI, about 50 in number, were asked by party founder Moulana Saduddin to resign and dedicate their full time to the party work. Bhat was a government teacher at that time and recently engaged to the daughter of his school headmaster. Upon hearing the JeI diktat, the future father-in-law warned him, “if you resign from the post, forget my daughter.” Bhat approached Geelani in Sopore for advice. Geelani told him that all of them have already resigned. Without thinking further, Bhat resigned. Consequently the engagement broke off.
Bhat was straightaway given the post of chairman of Shoba Taleem (later known as Falah e Aam Trust) at JeI. He remained at the post till 1984 when he replaced Saduddin as second Ameer e Jamaat. These were crucial times as fresh wave of political thinking spearheaded by new generation was taking shape. Farooq Abdullah’s government was dismissed unceremoniously due to political defections engineered by Congress. Later Farooq joined the hands with same congress and it was becoming a cocktail of anger, betrayal and loss of identity for Kashmiris. Sensing an opportunity to play a change maker, Bhat helped unite anti-NC and anti-congress forces into Muslim United Front (MUF). The front was already in prominence due to active role played by late Qazi Nissar and JeI added to its strength.
The new political force literally shook the entire state and MUF seemed to be a long and illusive alternative for Kashmiris. However the assembly elections were rigged and Jamaat had to pay a heavy price as its members and leaders were arrested, tortured and lodged in jails. History changed forever when these people came out of jails.
Moulana Hakim Ghulam Nabi replaced Bhat as Ameer-e-Jamaat in 1988 and soon the insurgency started and like thousands of others JeI members also participated. Mohammad Yousus Shah (Salahuddin), Ghulam Rasool Dar (Riyaz Rasool), Ghulam Hassan Khan (Saiful Islam) of JeI became the soul of HM. The party was banned by government giving a blow to its work. Thereafter came the phase of counter insurgency when JeI workers were specifically targeted and according to party estimate more than 2000 active members were killed. Thousands fled from peripheries towards safe havens in the city. Arrests of JeI leaders and members too continued at the hands of government forces.
It took Jamaat 10 years to take the decision to sever ties with Hizb. Bhat took the step to expel all the Jamaat members including Syed Salahuddin from the party for being linked to Hizb.
Bhat is also known as the crisis manager for Jamaat and has time and again steered the party through rough weather. Earlier this February when a huge controversy erupted in Jamaat after MLA Langate Er Rashid was invited to its party convention, it was Bhat who handled the situation. At that time the angry members demanded nothing less than resignation from party leadership, but it was Bhat’s deft handling that the demand was converted to just apology.
“Bhat build the party afresh after it was almost decimated by counter insurgents and the entire party was in a mode of depression,” said a party leader. “All these things make him very crucial to the party.”
After Bhat was elected by securing 61 votes as against 42 votes secured by incumbent M A Wani, he hinted at his strategy. “The Ameer has made it clear that he will be working on two fronts, reform the organisation and expand it to every panchayat halka in the state,” said a member. “You will see Jamaat covering all those places where we don’t have any members. It will be Jamaat’s biggest drive.”
Education would also be a major part of the expansion programme. At present JeI runs 300 schools and 10 modern Darul Ulooms where both science and religion is taught. The number of educational institutes will also be increased and special focus would be on quality education.
Regarding JeI’s role in current political situation, Bhat and Majlis Shoora have decided to continue its guarded approach. “If ever there is some issue pertaining to our millat. We will come out with our stand in a press conference,” Bhat told the party.
On reform part, Bhat, who is also a successful fruit merchant, has his own ideas. He is weighing on stopping the custom of organising yearly party conventions altogether. At many places Jamaat conventions are hugely popular but Bhat opines that it is turning out to be wasteful expenditure of time and resources. “For six months people start preparing for these conventions. This is too much,” Bhat told a close-door meeting which raised some eyebrows. “We have to see whether we are gaining anything from such conventions or not.”