Far from seeking to review its policy muscular towards Kashmir following the Pulwama attack that killed over 40 CRPF personnel, New Delhi seems to have resolved to only reinforce it. Ever since the Pulwama bombing, Government has embarked on an unprecedented crackdown on the politico-religious group Jamaat-e-Islami, withdrawn security of the separatist leaders and downgraded those of the political workers. And in the latest development the National Investigation Agency has called Hurriyat M Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Naseem Geelani, son of the top separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani to New Delhi for questioning. The NIA had raided their houses a fortnight ago.
Calling Mirwaiz to New Delhi is an unprecedented step. Until now, all central governments have stopped short of jailing the Mirwaiz who is not only a top separatist leader but also a religious leader who represents a centuries old institution of chief preacher of Kashmir. So, the governments generally preferred to put him under house arrest. But not anymore. The BJP led government at the centre has chosen to break this taboo. However, Mirwaiz has refused to present himself before the NIA in New Delhi. His counsel has said he can’t do it because of the “hostile security atmosphere in Delhi”.
“Under the prevailing conditions of hostility wherein there is a threat to the personal safety of my client, it becomes unwise for my client to travel to Delhi,” read the response of Mirwaiz’s counsel Aijaz Ahmed Dar to NIA.
The response further read that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is the 13th Mirwaiz of Kashmir, “is committed to the abiding tradition of upholding truth and justice to represent the aspirations of the people of J&K”
“Mirwaiz’s stand is clear. He has always stated that the Kashmir issue is a political and human issue which needs a political resolution either through the implementation of UN resolution or through dialogue amongst the three stake-holders: India, Pakistan and people of Jammu and Kashmir,” the response says.
On the other hand, Government has arrested scores of Jamaat leaders and workers and lodged them in jails. The government has also sealed properties of the organization worth crores of rupees. Though initially the order was read as the ban on Jamaat schools and mosques, later the government clarified they had been kept outside the scope of seizure and sealing.
“Action is being taken against offices, assets, properties and other equipment of the banned organisation,” J&K government spokesman Rahul Kansal said in a statement. He added that the ban was for five years.
This has created a sense of fear in the Valley. “After the patent failure of the BJP’s muscular policy on Kashmir, one expected that the government would relook its Kashmir policy and choose a policy of a political engagement with the state,” says the political commentator Gowhar Geelani. “But it is only doubling down on the policy and expecting a different result. But this is only going to deepen the alienation in the state”.
The crackdown against Jamaat has created a widespread unease. Jamaat is a cadre based politico-religious party but over the past thirty years it has largely restricted itself to the propagation of religion and stayed away from politics. It has preferred to stay in the background. And from the late-nineties onwards, it has dissociated from the militancy, although it stands by its separatist ideology.
However, Jamaat, through its politico-religious activities, its dedicated cadre of sympathizers, affiliates and members and of course the vast network of schools has made itself an organic part of the Kashmir society. Contrary to madrassas which sprang up in hundreds across Valley through the nineties, Jamaat schools have continue to be forward-looking in matters of education. While religious instruction in these schools is a must, it is not the paramount and exclusive focus of education like the madrassas. Long before madrassas started turning out youth with knowledge restricted to religion, Jamaat produced doctors and engineers, scientists and academicians, even administrators.
So, the action against Jamaat will be deeply felt by the society. “Besides, it has also foreclosed chances of the centre’s engagement with the separatist groups,” says Geelani. “If tomorrow, the centre chooses to hold dialogue with dissenting Kashmiri groups, it will hardly find any interlocutors in the state. More so, when New Delhi has already jailed many senior Hurriyat leaders”.
The jailed Hurriyat leaders include Shabir Shah, Altaf Ahmad Shah Funtoosh Geelani (son-in-law of Syed Ali Geelani), Ayaz Akbar, Raja Merajuddin Kalwal, Peer Saifullah, Aftab Hilali Shah alias Shahid-ul-Islam, Nayeem Khan and Farooq Ahmad Dar alias Bitta Karate. The message is clear: Government wants to go the whole hog against separatist leaders with an ostensible aim to get a grip on the runaway situation in Valley.
For Kashmir observers, the arrests also mean that the centre has given up on the engagement with the dissident groups in the state and has resolved to exclusively use force to sort out the
issues in the state. But as the current situation in Valley reveals, this policy has changed nothing on the ground.
“This policy has been in force over the term of the central government under the BJP. But far from making a redeeming difference, it has only worsened the situation in Kashmir,” says Naseer Ahmad, author of Kashmir Pending. “By arresting Hurriyat leaders on trumped up charges, centre has also killed the option of an outreach to a separatist political organization. Force was and remains the preferred tool of this government to deal with Kashmir”.
Adding to the deepening political vacuum in Kashmir is that the Election Commission of India has decided not to hold Assembly polls in J&K simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls. This has only extended the ongoing central rule in the state and which is widely seen to be implementing the BJP’s ideological agenda in the state. The National Conference and the PDP have criticised the centre for delaying Assembly polls. The NC leader and the former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has termed the postponement of Assembly polls as “Modi’s surrender to Pakistan”. And the local media has also opposed the decision.
“Apparently there seems no reason or rationale for the EC to defer the Assembly polls. If the deteriorating security situation was the reason, the elections have been held in the state in even worse conditions,” read an editorial in a local daily. “If the state government could hold as grassroots-centric an exercise as Panchayat and urban local bodies polls without any surge in violence and that too in as troubled an area as South Kashmir, there was no reason why Assembly elections could not have been held”.