Hullaballoo on the Ban: Surgical on Jamaat or Engulfing Hurriyat?

Banning the Jamaat-e-Islami has brought almost all mainstream & separatist parties in J&K on one page.

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Opinion
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Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir chief Abdul Hameed Fayaz.
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For the first time a significant political decision taken by the Centre — declaring the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir ‘unlawful’ for 5 years under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act — has suddenly brought almost all the mainstream and separatist parties in the state on one page. With exception of the BJP, the political spectrum is flooded with identical statements and demands to revoke the ban.

A subdued reaction on Saturday, 2 March also came out from the senior Congress leader and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in Jammu. He insisted to learn if the Centre had banned the JEI on the basis of any material seized from the organisation. Without naming any group, Azad asserted that similar action should have been taken “against all organisations, if found spreading hatred any community”.

During the Emergency, Indira Gandhi’s government at the Centre had, for the first time, banned JEI on recommendation of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s government in Jammu and Kashmir after declaring constituents of the Sangh Privar as outlawed across India.

Uproar in Valley

Reactions from the Valley’s mainstream majors, Omar Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who have been competing on the so-called Kashmir sentiment, have been tough and terse. They have raised questions inter alia on timing and legality of the ban order and dismissed it as travesty of democracy and the ‘battle of ideas’, while asking about the fate of students at the JEI-run schools.

Even Farooq Abdullah, who after 2002 has faded out as the Valley’s only leader contesting the separatists politically, has been bitterly critical of the Modi government’s ban on Jamaat. Mehbooba has organised the first demonstration in support of JEI and alleged that such “gimmicks” were aimed at pleasing a votebank on communal lines.

A significantly negative reaction has also come from the BJP’s die-hard ally of the last four years, Sajad Lone of Peoples Conference, who served as a Cabinet Minister in the Mufti-led coalition and in December 2018 claimed to form the government with the BJP’s support.

Many of them in jail or under house arrest, the separatist leaders have sponsored a shutdown and indicated more resistance.

According to senior government functionaries, of the 2.6 million students in J&K, around 83,000 are enrolled with JEI’s 324 schools in the Valley.

Jamaat’s Genesis and a Vast Web

The cadre-based politico-religious organisation has over 5,000 committed members with equal number of school teachers and administrators under the aegis of Falah-e-Aam Trust. It runs charities, including an orphanage, arranges scholarship for students and has its activists and sympathisers spread in almost all institutions from civil administration and police to judiciary, media and academia. “It’s like RSS across India,” simplified an officer.

Founded in 1941 by Maulana Abul Aala Maududi, JEI held its first congregation in Srinagar in 1945. Its first madrasas were established in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-52, well before JEI J&K separated itself from JEI India.

A year after JEI (J&K) adopted its own constitution in November 1953, Saaduddin Tarabali was elected as its first Amir. It fielded candidates in the non-party Panchayat elections of 1969, followed by the Lok Sabha elections of 1971.

When Sheikh Abdullah was leading the secessionist Plebiscite Front from jail, JEI fielded 22 of its candidates in the notoriously manipulated Assembly elections of 1972. Qari Saifuddin and Ghulam Nabi Nowshahri, who later functioned as Amirs, besides Syed Ali Shah Geelani, were among the five JEI candidates who were declared as elected.

Geelani was also elected on JEI’s ticket in arguably the State’s first credible Assembly elections in 1977 but all the party’s 26 candidates lost in 1983. Later Geelani also figured among the four Muslim United Front (MUF) nominees who were returned in the much-tainted Assembly elections of 1987. All the four resigned with the outbreak of insurgency in 1989.

Even as all these candidates contested the elections with the customary oath of upholding the sovereignty and integrity of India, the JEI veteran and Hizbul Mujahideen’s supremo Mohammad Yousuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, who was declared as a loser from Amirakadal, has claimed in his interviews to media in Pakistan that MUF’s 1987 elections were “a ploy to occupy the legislature and declare Azadi on the floor of the Assembly”.

Surviving Under the ‘Lesser Evil’

After 1989, JEI has been a staunch separatist organisation pleading for J&K’s accession to Pakistan and implementation of the UN Security Council’s resolutions of referendum as adopted in 1948 and 1949.

It has boycotted all post-1990 elections, even as a section of its cadre has been viewing the PDP as “lesser evil” and perceived to be voting for Mufti’s party.

“We may never forget the fury that was directed on swathes of our bastion spread across South Kashmir, over Bhutto’s execution in Pakistan in 1979. Sheikh (Abdullah) was silent for three days the way (Narendra) Modi did in Gujarat,” said a senior government officer who is now close to his retirement. He said that hundreds of the JEI sympathisers’ houses were set on fire, hundreds were forced to shave off their beards and hundreds of their orchards were destroyed.

The Second Proscription and a Persecution

In 1990, Governor Jagmohan banned JEI and sealed its subsidiaries but adjusted its teachers in the Government schools, notwithstanding caveats from New Delhi that such indoctrinated lots could “promote jehad” in academic institutions. Even after the ban order, Hizbul Mujahideen’s first “commander-in-chief” Master Ahsan Dar broke away from his Amir Hilal Ahmad Mir aka Nasirul Islam and declared his group as “JEI’s guerrilla arm”.

Then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s Congress government at the Centre withdrew the ban on JEI and its affiliates as a goodwill gesture, reportedly on the advice of some Kashmiri mainstream leaders, in 1993.

In 1995-96, Kukka Parrey’s counterinsurgency militia Ikhwanul Muslimoon got hundreds of the Hizbul Mujahideen militants and a huge number of their JEI sympathisers killed with the support of security forces.

Moral support from PDP resuscitated the JEI but once a formidable network it failed to fully revive, particularly after Geelani floated his own Tehreek-e-Hurriyat in 2003. Like Hizb, TeH too draws much of its committed cadre from JEI.

A Surprising Development, After 29 Years

MHA’s ban order has surprised many in Jammu and Kashmir as, over the years, JEI is known to have officially distanced itself from militancy. Notwithstanding boycott to elections, it calls for resolution of the Kashmir dispute through “tripartite talks” or UNSC resolutions. Besides, JEI’s schools, all recognised by J&K State Board of School Education, are not known to have produced militants in an organised pattern.

This is in contrast to the highly indoctrinated and radicalised Darul Uloom students surfacing in recent suicide strikes including the one that left over 40 CRPF men dead on Srinagar-Jammu highway in Pulwama on 14 February.

Officials, nevertheless, mention names of dozens of the prominent JEI leaders and sympathisers whose sons or other relatives have either died in different encounters with security forces or are still active. “This ISI-created mosaic is no more baffling for us. We know that they are all birds of the same feather who feed and flock together,” said a senior officer of Jammu and Kashmir Police. He indicated that the ban could soon extend to other separatist organisations. The Pulwama strike, according to him, was the “turning point”. He insisted that most of the separatists, including militants, drew their strength from weaknesses of the democracy rather than the public support.

NIA-IT Dovetail for Hurriyat Hawks?

Deputy Commissioners, who spoke to The Quint, maintained invariably that they were “just implementing the orders from the Centre”. Scores of the offices of JEI and its subsidiaries, including schools and residential houses of dozens of the JEI activists, have been sealed in the last three days. Revenue officials have been directed to make inventories of assets and submit the same to higher authorities. Reports say a large number of bank accounts have been frozen under orders of District Magistrates.

Days before the ban order, National Investigation Agency and Income Tax Department carried out raids on the residences of some prominent separatist leaders. One MLC’s business office was also raided. Remarkably, it was the first ever raid on the Hurriyat stalwart Mirwaiz Umer Farooq’s house. Prior to that, security cover was withdrawn from almost all the separatist leaders under the groundswell of anger over the Pulwama strike from across the country.

Governor’s administration, in coordination with MHA, is reportedly mulling blanket ban on Hurriyat, its different constituents and other separatist parties. But much of it would depend on the beginning of a legal battle as many of the separatists, including JEI, have threatened to fight it out in the court of law.

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