A week after the Pulwama suicide bombing attack by a fidayeen operative of terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM)on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy, which killed over 40 security personnel, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police launched a major crackdown on Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), on one of the Valley's well-known socio-political organisations.
Nearly 200 of JeI’s men were taken into “preventive custody”, including its top leaders and ameer (chief) Abdul Hamid Fayaz. In the second week since the Pulwama attack, and amidst a massive showdown between India and Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami was officially banned through a notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
The reason behind the ban as cited by the MHA was that JeI, better known as Jamaat, actively supports separatism and has links with the militant movement in Kashmir.
Tracing Jamaat’s Roots
Given that on Kashmir’s Islamist political spectrum Jamaat is quite far from Jaish (believed to draw its inspiration from the Deobandi school of thought as opposed to Jamaat), the crackdown by the Centre and state authorities is bound to create further fault lines in Kashmir. To know exactly why the move might turn out to be counterproductive, it is imperative to visit Jamaat's inception, its character during the thirty-year-old insurgency, and its present.
Jama’at-e-Islami was founded during India’s British rule in 1941 by Abul Ala Maududi, an Islamic theologian and philosopher. Even though the ideology took the shape of an organisation just six years before the Independence of British India and the creation of Pakistan, Maududi had become a prominent figure in the growing political Islamic sphere.
Till date, many see him as someone who propounded the modern revolutionary brand of Islam whose prominent subscribers include the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood. Maududi wasn't completely convinced with the idea of Pakistan, when he was ameer of Jamaat in undivided India, and his opposition to the idea was well known. He believed that rather than creating Pakistan, Muslims should strive to enforce Islamic governance in the sub continent. This changed after Partition in 1947, and subsequently, the Jamaat split into Jama’at-e-Islami Pakistan and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, with Maududi heading the Pakistani Jamaat.
Birth of Jamaat’s Kashmir Chapter
Owing to the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir, a third split occurred in Jamaat in 1954, giving birth to JeI's Kashmir chapter. Maulana Ahrar and Ghulam Rasul Abdullah, two prominent Jamaat members from Kashmir drafted a new constitution, and Jamaat established itself as an autonomous body with a consistent stand on Kashmir being a disputed territory. Seen by the Indian state as under the influence of JeI Pakistan, the group passed through multiple crackdowns, and among their major opponents was the National Conference with whom Jamaat shares a bloody history.
The dynamics between the two changed a little for a short time, when Jamaat participated in the 1972 state assembly elections.
Of the 22 seats the Jamaat contested, it won five. Jamaat's entry into electoral politics brought much needed peace between them and their nemesis NC. But this too, was short-lived; soon after, NC leader Sheikh Abdullah signed what is known as the 1975 Indira–Sheikh accord.
National Conference-Jamaat Hostilities
Abdullah had given up the demand for J&K’s right to self-determination, and as a result, constitutional changes took place in the state including removing the position of J&K's prime minister, a position at that time held by Abdullah himself. Jamaat became the most vocal voice against the accord. It is during this time that Jamaat gained ground beyond their constituencies.
The NC-Jamaat hostilities reached a tipping point with the hanging of former prime minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on 4 April 1979. Seen as close to the Zia-ul-Haq regime, Jamaat faced a major backlash in the ensuing riots. Houses of Jamaat affiliates were ransacked and burnt down.
According to one popular anecdote, several Qurans recovered from Jamaat men were also burnt by violent mobs, saying the same were ‘Jamaat Qurans’. Jamaat leaders, even till now, accuse Sheikh Abdullah of orchestrating the anger against them. There would be no reconciliation between Jamaat, and Abdullah was the chief minister of the state at that time, and till his death in 1982. Seven years after Abdullah's death, an armed insurrection began in the region.
Jamaat and Militancy
When a full scale militancy erupted in J&K, for the first few months, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a non-Islamist outfit, took the lead in the anti-India insurgency. The militancy however, left out those who advocated Kashmir's merger with Pakistan, unlike JKLF. In came Hizbul Mujahideen (HM). Though the group, like JKLF, received logistical support from the Pakistani state, HM, unlike the former, drew its rank and file from people who subscribed to the Jamaat ideology.
Jamaat, till then, had distanced itself from political violence against the Indian state which had already begun as part of the movement for an Independent Kashmir. An example of their policy is best elucidated by their low key reaction to the hanging of Maqbool Bhat in 1984, who was, till then, considered the militant face of Kashmir’s movement to right to self-determination.
But complications developed for the Jamaat with the arrival of the Hizb. With many of its leaders in jail, due to a massive crackdown on separatists, one of the founding members of Hizb, Ahsan Dar, put the Jamaat in a fix when he declared the militant outfit as the "Aksari Bazu" (militant wing) of Jamaat.
The Jamaat leadership had to rebut the statements of Dar, and after years of crackdown, the group resumed its activities in 1996-97.
One of the most dominant separatist groups in the Valley is the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH), which was till 2018 headed by senior separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a veteran Jamaat leader. He was one of Jamaat's five MLAs, who had won his seat in the state assembly elections. Besides being seen as someone who countered the legacy of Kashmir's first mass leader Sheikh Abdullah Geelani, Syed Ali Shah Geelani was also the most staunch supporter of the idea of Kashmir merging with Pakistan.
In late 90s, after Jamaat had begun its socio-religious activities, Geelani objected to the groups distancing from the ongoing separatist movement.
He was at that time, Jamaat's political representative in the Hurriyat Conference conglomerate of separatist groups. He was then allowed to form TeH, and remained its head till Ashraf Sehrai took the reins from him in 2018.
Roots of Crackdown on Militancy & Jamaat
To understand the current crackdown on Jamaat, it is imperative to look at its non-political activities and the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani in 2016. Besides its intertwined history with Kashmir's politics, governance and insurgency, Jamaat, between 1996-2016, managed to propel its image as a socio-religious group working for and on a range of issues.
The group runs a non-political and non-profit ‘Falah-e-aam’ Trust, which provides education to thousands across the Valley. They have, over the years, provided support to Kashmir’s widows, and have educated orphans.
And even though hushed voices in Kashmir claim the group has provided tacit support to NC's rival Peoples Democratic Party, the Jamaat has worked hard to intervene in Kashmir’s affairs.
Hizb taking a backseat in the insurgency helped, and so did Lashkar-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad taking the lead. Lashkar draws its inspiration from the Jamaat-e-ahl-Hadees school of thought.
However, things changed again after the killing of Burhan Wani. The killing led to a six month-long agitation, and militant recruitment has only increased since July 2016.
Hizb ranks swelled again to the extent that in 2017, according to a senior J&K police official, youth interested in joining militancy and Hizb in particular, were asked to join Jaish and LeT due to saturation in HM.
Main Concern of Govt Regarding Jamaat
While the new recruits of militancy in general, and Hizb in particular, might not have the level of ideological affinity their predecessors had with Jamaat, the resurgence of a group filled largely with Kashmiri recruits, is something that the Centre was deeply concerned about. But the concern of the state is not only the youth with Jamaat-leanings joining militant ranks, or Jamaat's support to militants (who as of now number at around 275).
The main concern is regarding how the organisation has managed to embed itself in Kashmir’s social fabric.
Former chief of Research and Analysis Wing ( RAW) AS Dulat, in the first week of February, while talking about the possibility of the Islamic State’s presence in Kashmir, said, “I don't see radicalisation happening in Kashmir in the name of ISIS. That doesn't mean there is no radicalisation in the region. The radicalisation there, is indigenous in nature”. Dulat also said that Jamaat was in fact the group that has managed to radicalise Kashmiri youth politically.
Perhaps it is this belief that has caused Jamaat to find itself again amidst a massive crackdown.
Support for Jamaat
One theory in Kashmir related to the group’s crackdown, is that they were mobilising the ground in Kashmir for an unrest, in the event that Article 35 A is tinkered with. Another speculation is that the Centre is clearing the way for the general elections due to fears of a low turnout.
Both theories are possible. In fact, the home ministry sources told this reporter that security agencies have expressed to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, their concerns over a low voter turnout in the general elections. However, if Jamaat’s own history is taken into account, a crackdown on them has only increased their relevance in the socio-religious affairs of Kashmir, if not in politics.
With tensions simmering between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, it would be interesting to see how the political landscape in Kashmir, with former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti and People's Conference leader Sajjad Lone, coming out in support of Jamaat. The National Conference too “expressed dismay”. One might argue that it is political opportunism, but that doesn't change anything on the ground for the government of India, who, besides facing the challenge of holding general elections peacefully, also has to walk on thin ice, while banning separatist groups left, right and centre.
(Azaan Javaid is a Kashmir-based journalist and has previously reported from New Delhi for Hindustan Times, DNA, Deccan Herald, Statesman and Caravan magazine. He can be reached at @AzaanJavaid. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)