Elections 2024: Radical Jamaat ready to embrace democratic engagement

From the time that militants who sprouted out of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a proscribed radical organisation in Kashmir, threatened to pour acid on people who participated in electoral process, to the situation now when it is openly willing to participate in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, a tectonic shift seems to be taking place in Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier this week, when polling for the Srinagar seat was under way, onlookers and a handful of journalists covering the elections were shocked to see Ghulam Qadir Wani, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, venturing out of his home in the nondescript village of Goosu in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district in full public view and cast his ballot.

The event caused a stir and attracted the media and local political workers alike. Some rushed to follow him back to his village to interview him.

Wani ventured that the Jamaat had “always believed in democracy” and claimed it had never issued boycott calls. Two days later, he held a press conference in Srinagar and expressed the Jamaat’s willingness to participate in the polls. But he had a condition — the government should lift the ban on the Jamaat. This is being viewed by the official machinery and local political observers as a sign of the shift in the mood in the Valley after abrogation of Article 370.

Elections and Jamaat

Jamaat participated in the Assembly elections for the first time in 1972 and won five seats from the Valley. However, in the 1977 elections, which were widely perceived as the first free and fair elections, the Jamaat was reduced to only one seat. The religio-political organisation was then contesting as part of the Muslim United Front, a conglomerate of religious groups, challenging the National Conference and INC alliance.

But the outfit stopped taking part in elections after the “rigged” assembly elections of 1987, which is widely believed to be a catalyst for armed insurgency in the Valley. Many of the Jamaat members picked up arms including Syed Salahuddin, who now heads the banned militant organization Hizbul Mujahideen and operates from across the LoC.

Apart from other militant and separatist organisations, Hizbul Mujahideen used to issue boycott calls, asking people to steer clear of the electoral process.

During the panchayat elections in 2018, the outfit threatened people that acid would be poured in their eyes if they participate in elections and cast their votes.

In an attempt to prevent people from participating in the democratic process, thousands of political activists from different mainstream parties were killed by militants over the last 35 years of militancy in the region.

Shift in Jammat’s stand

The significant shift in Jamaat’s long standing position is poised to add a new dimension to the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Jamaat attributes this shift to the altered geo-political landscape of the region. The panel of Jamaat leaders, which has been authorized by the proscribed Markazi Majlis Shura (Center Advisory Council) to negotiate with the Union Government has said that following the abrogation of Article 370, there has been “a realisation about the importance of participating in electoral politics”.

A member of the panel, who declined to be quoted, told businessline that the organisation reposes its faith in the current political dispensation, given its serious approach.

The panel member said that “the Indian state would handle Pakistan”.



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