Prem Shankar Jha can take credit for having predicted the rout the National Conference faced at the hands of the People’s Democratic Party in the Indian parliamentary elections. Jha has never hid his penchant for canvassing for the Mufti-led party, unlike a horde of journalists in Kashmir who covertly support various political formations (and also derive some sort of financial succour out of it). Why people like him and Madhu Kishwar, a hardline Narendra Modi supporter, are going all-out to campaign and lobby for Mufti will unfold in the time to come. However, one aspect that peppers their lobbying for the Muftis is that they touch issues which apparently have nothing to do with which pro-India political party should be in power in Kashmir.
Suggesting that the PDP should replace the NC in the state, Jha wrote in an article in the Greater Kashmir on May 12:
…But Kashmir’s administration has been too deeply corrupted to permit any instant change for the better. So “good governance” has not been delivered. Instead it has become the justification for the complete repression of dissent. This has created boon conditions for the rise of a new, dangerous form of separatism that combines all-pervasive rural unemployment and all-pervasive urban disenchantment with a creeping rise of Salafi Islam. Kashmir has thus been reduced to a simmering cauldron under which a fire is being studiously kept burning till it blows its top. This is a threat that only a democratically-elected Kashmiri government can hope to tackle.
The analysis only bares the contradictions propagandists like Jha carry with them whenever they approach Kashmir. It also shows the hollowness of pro-India politics. According to Jha’s perverted logic, only a government run by the PDP can be “democratically elected” because round-the-clock Indian media messages have been telling us that a sizable number of people elected the NC to power in the 2008 elections despite a massive anti-India agitation that preceded it. Therefore, going by Jha, the NC’s was not a democratically-elected government. And when a political science student tells Jha precisely this at a Delhi seminar – that the NC, or any other party, has never been democratically elected – he fumes and shouts him down.
But my concern is not the choice between the PDP and the NC, because, as Jha goes on to prove, it is a non-choice. My concern is how, whipped to a frenzy by several vested interests among Kashmiris, so-called Salafi Islam is being constructed into the second biggest threat, next only to the Indian army.
It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the dynamics of the state-constructed and state-sponsored Salafi versus Sufi binary in Kashmir, but one can broadly identify a number of theories circulating uncontested in Kashmir and what both sides must do to at least prevent the differences, which have existed since the advent of Islam, from becoming a tool in the hands of the oppressor.
First, the belief that the Salafi (Ahli-Hadees, ‘Wahabi, Ghair Aitiqaadi’) movement in Kashmir is being sponsored by Saudi money and the Indian government is turning a blind eye to its phenomenal growth in the past two decades, possibly to blunt the inclusive freedom struggle. This, the propaganda goes, is reflected in the mushrooming of Salafi mosques across the valley and beyond.
To counter this, the Jami’at-e-Ahl–e-Hadees should identify the major proponents of this line of thought and invite them to a public debate. The Jami’at must itself come prepared with a list of the Salafi mosques, their dates of construction, the source of money, and clarify its stand on the major issues on which it is being held responsible, such as the “attack on Sufi Islam” etc. Also, it is high time that the Jami’at start an awareness campaign about the history of Ahl-e-Hadees movement in Kashmir, as it would dispel several misconceptions (besides squashing mischievous propaganda) about it. This can be done in the form of pamphlets, newspaper articles, frequent press briefings and seminars. We are yet to see any major response to the allegations of Saudi funding from Jami’at leaders. Such reticence, perhaps, led to the unfortunate assassination of Maulana Showkat and this unbridled barrage of canard that has the potential to turn into an ugly situation the Indian state would be praying for.
It is a pity that the organisation which used to publish a weekly organizational paper much before the newspaper boom in the valley has not employed the media to come clean on several important issues, for example, its engagements with the state for its proposed university. Though the movement boasts of having more than 750 mosques across the state and about half-a-million followers, it has done practically nothing to highlight the contributions of some of its greatest personalities in the social and political uplift of Kashmiris. Abdul Rashid Tahiri, who was tortured at the age of 73 by the Border Security Force for his strident pro-independence views, comes to my mind.
Without taking a confrontationist approach, the Jami’at should come out with a point-by-point response to the onslaught against it. Otherwise, it will not be long before ‘Salafi Islam’ is blamed even for the military occupation of Kashmir.