Srinagar: Dozens of Kashmiri imams demonstrated on Thursday against the BJP, accusing it of using a pro-Modi organisation of Indian clerics to push its electoral agenda on Kashmir.
The imams, who have been largely apolitical in the context of the Kashmir dispute, told Kashmir Reader that Jamaat Ulema-e-Hind (not to be confused with Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind) through its local affiliates had invited them to a hotel at Lal Chowk for a “religious gathering.”
“Since we believe in Deobandi school of thought as Jamaat does, we were interested in attending the gathering. About 150 of us went to the gathering,” said Moulana Syed Waris Shah, president of a body representing imams of J&K mosques.
Shah, who has been leading prayers at a Safa Kadal mosque in downtown Srinagar for the past 15 years, said the Jamaat representatives and some local imams started the session with a recitation of the Qur’an and then spoke about hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammad).
Shah said the Jamaat men, after distributing Islamic literature and serving tea asked the local imams to give them a list of the people affected by the September flood in their respective areas.
“They told us that National Conference, Congress and Peoples Democratic Party have ruined the state. They asked us to support the BJP in the elections. The local imams erupted when they openly supported BJP,” Shah said.
Another imam, Javaid Ahmad Peer, who leads prayers in a mosque in an uptown locality, said, “When I told them about human rights abuses committed by the Indian army in Kashmir, the Jamaat representatives said they were hearing it for the first time that Indian troops were involved in the atrocities against Kashmiris.”
“I asked them ‘have you heard about Kunan-Poshpora, martyrs of Kashmir and rapes being committed against Kashmiris’? They said ‘no’. It angered all of us. If the world knows about Kashmir dispute, why are they unaware? Or is it that they were feigning ignorance,” he added.
Peer said the local imams at the gathering stood up and shouted slogans against the BJP.
“BJP is a rightwing Hindu party. How can we support it? We told them that we support the freedom struggle in Kashmir and won’t settle for anything less,” Peer added.
Later, all local imams left the hotel and demonstrated near the historic Ghanta Ghar or clock tower at Lal Chowk. They stopped traffic and shouted pro-freedom and anti-BJP slogans.
The imams said the BJP was on the mission of “saffronising Islam” in Kashmir.
The protest continued for more than an hour, before police arrived and whisked away some members from the spot.
The Jamaat representatives had left the hotel and were not available for comment.
Calling for a strike against the BJP, the imams said they would never allow the saffron party to change “Muslim character” of Jammu and Kashmir.
While the protesting imams were unaware about names of the Jamaat members who attended the hotel gathering, sources told Kashmir Reader that that its president of Delhi Moulana Suhail Zaffar, Jammu and Kashmir state president Abdul Lateef and state member Mohammad Shafi were present.
Media head for BJP in Kashmir, Altaf Thakur alleged that the demonstration was staged by the members of the opposition parties. “PDP, Congress and NC want to tarnish our image. They orchestrated the demo and all the controversy which it surrounds it,” he said.
Media reports over the past few days said the BJP had roped in Indian Muslim clerics to campaign for it in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley.
The 16,000-member strong Jamaat Ulema-e-Hind is headed by Deoband-based cleric Maulana Suhaib Qasmi, who had campaigned for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha election
“There is no harm in trying BJP once. We should deliberate on a development agenda for the community while bargaining for support. No personal interest should be there, which is a practice,” Qasmi had said while campaigning for Modi.
Qasmi had stated that about 2,000 clerics were interacting with the local residents in Kashmir to learn about their problems. He said the feedback would be conveyed to BJP leaders.