Above: Representative picture of J&K police
By Pushp Saraf
The decision to ban this outfit under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for five years is surprising as it has never been a reckonable force and largely pursues a politico-religious goal
Early in 2000 when militancy continued to be at its peak in the Valley, Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, the then Ameer (chief) of the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir (or JeI), wrote a letter to this writer about an article he wrote where he referred to his organisation as a militant body. He writes: “Jamaat has never been a militant body and all the accusations against it are baseless and the charges levelled unfounded….The Jamaat believes in Islam which is a message of love and universal brotherhood.” He spelt out JeI’s political stance: “About the Kashmir dispute, we have made it amply clear on various occasions through interviews and press statements that the solution of this complicated issue through peaceful means is a must for the people of this sub-continent…the issue should be amicably settled.”
A few years earlier, another organisation, the JeI Hind, had sent a communication in the context of another observation made by me in an English daily, where it insisted that the expressions “Hind” and “Jammu and Kashmir” should be used to underline a distinction—though it and the JeI shared the same name, they were separate organisations with entirely different ideologies.
Indeed, the JeI is independent of JeI Hind and is actually considered close to JeI Pakistan in theory and practice. Apart from undertaking social and religious activities, it has been active in the political spectrum as a supporter of the right to self-determination for the people of J&K to determine their future. It has a loyal, albeit not large cadre, and has taken part in elections, winning a maximum of five assembly seats in 1972. It used the mainstream political route to reiterate its own stance instead of being amenable to the status quo or the national will as reflected in Parliament’s resolution on February 22, 1994 that J&K is an “integral part” of India and “Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression”.
The JeI has never been a reckonable political force and its electoral performance in 1972 could be attributed to the circumstances prevailing at that time. Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference, strongly backing accession to the Indian Union and secularism and opposed to the Jamaat’s fundamentalist beliefs, were to return to the mainstream in 1975. If the JeI evoked much awe in the early 1990s, it was because of its open association with the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), which was initially a homespun armed militant outfit. HM was called its “sword arm” and its supremo based in Muzaffarabad (capital of “Azad” Kashmir), locally known as Moulvi Yusuf Shah alias Syed Salahuddin, has been a senior JeI functionary.
Bhat’s attempt in the above-mentioned letter to steer clear of his organisation’s terror links was feeble, but consistent with his own moderate thinking. He tried to pull the JeI back from its extremist approach and confine it to peacefully pursue its politico-religious goal. As a result, there were a series of developments and a parting of political ways. Bhat tried to put the JeI on a course different from veteran Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the most popular face of the organisation, who had called the shots for too long. The JeI and Geelani gave a respectable veneer to their differences by agreeing to disagree without breaking the umbilical cord.
For Geelani, it was Kashmir first without compromising his Islamic philosophy. He gave up the right to hold a post in his parent organisation by floating his own political outfit, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. For the Jamaat, it has since been religion first. It says no to violence. Nonagenarian Geelani has personally avoided use of violence, but is evidently not averse to others pursuing it for the Kashmir cause as he sees it. He makes it a point to attend, if allowed to travel out of his house arrest, cremations even of foreign mercenaries killed in encounters with the security forces. His declared stand is that he stands for the right to self-determination to the people of J&K to decide their future and he will accept the verdict of plebiscite, although his vote will be for Pakistan.
With this background in view, many observers are surprised by the timing of the Union government’s decision on February 28 to ban the JeI—perceived to be “moderate” at this moment—by declaring it an “unlawful association” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for a period of five years. The JeI has been charged, among other things, with having a close touch with militant outfits, supporting extremism, militancy and claims for secession of a part of Indian territory from the Union.
The undisguised official view is that in the absence of the ban, there will be “escalation in its subversive activities, including attempt to carve out an Islamic State out of the territory of Union of India by destabilising the government established by law”.
Even the JeI’s biggest ideological opponent, the National Conference, has been taken aback (JeI could never significantly make its presence felt as long as the formidable Sheikh Abdullah led the NC). NC vice-president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah has remarked: “In the battle of ideas & ideologies we have always opposed the Jamaat in the political space. The recent ban and crackdown against their leadership, members, schools & properties will serve no purpose except to drive their activities underground….In spite of these differences, I cannot support the recent crackdown against them…The move will yield nothing other than glamourising dissent.”
With the exception of the BJP and the Congress, almost all mainstream political parties and separatist organisations, including the Joint Resistance Leadership comprising Geelani, Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq and Yasin Malik, are unanimous in their opposition to the ban. People’s Democratic Party leader and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has warned that the ban could have “dangerous consequences” as it reeks of “political avenge”, there being “currently an atmosphere of revenge against Kashmiris”. She said: “Democracy is a battle of ideas. The crackdown, followed by the banning of Jamaat Islami, is condemnable and another example of high handedness and muscular approach of the GOI (Govenment of India) to deal with the political issue of J&K.” She was a partner in power with the BJP till recently.
Another ally of the BJP and People’s Conference (PC) Chairman Sajjad Lone has echoed similar sentiments: “Why has Jamaat been banned. Jamaat is a social, political and religious organisation. In a vibrant democracy, ideas have to be fought not banned. This organisation has given us illustrious leaders and legislators. How can they be banned? I strongly pitch for revocation of the ban.”
In any case, the government’s own strike appears half-hearted. Hundreds of JeI leaders and workers were arrested even before the ban was declared. Many were picked up later too. Early on confusion prevailed that along with the assets of the organisation, its educational institutions and places of worship were also being seized. As it came under fire for depriving children of education and devotees of prayers, the governor’s administration took three days to clarify that schools, mosques and orphanages had been kept outside the scope of the seizures and sealing. Dispassionate observers feel that the government appears to have over-estimated the influence of the JeI.
The last ban on the JeI, on April 16, 1990 by governor Jagmohan, was done under more challenging circumstances. Militancy had rocked J&K and the country and the link between the JeI and the HM was too transparent to be ignored. The Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front in whose name this all began from 1988 was being pushed into the background. Falah-i-Aam Trust of the organisation, which ran schools, was also declared unlawful and all its educational institutions were shut down and students transferred to government-run institutions. The ban lasted five years, but this did not prevent the JeI from being a key player in the formation and growth of the Hurriyat Conference, a conglomeration of secessionist outfits, which was formed in 1993. It recovered rather fast to rebuild its structure, much like after it was first banned during the Emergency. In the post-Emergency period, especially after the death of Sheikh Abdullah, it became more vocal and was a major constituent of the Muslim United Front that fought the 1987 assembly elections and became a forerunner of the Hurriyat Conference.
Would the ban have the desired effect now that it has been imposed for the third time?