Kashmiris and Indian Muslims

Published November 5, 2019
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

IN the aftermath of the anti-Ahmadi violence in the 1950s, Maulana Abul Hasanat Sayyed Muhammad Ahmad Qadri, President of Jamiatul Ulema-i-Pakistan, demanded an Islamic state in Pakistan. And he deposed before the Justice Munir Commission that looked into the violence.

Q: You will admit for the Hindus, who are in a majority in India, (a similar) right to have a Hindu religious state?

A: Yes.

Q: Will you have any objection if the Muslims are treated under that form of government as Malishes (Mlechhas) or Shudras under the law of Manu?

A: No.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman heads a faction of the Jamiat today. I gained a nodding acquaintance with the maulana when, for a reason difficult to fathom at the time, he became a regular interlocutor with Indian journalists visiting Pakistan. The maulana’s portly bearing and merry laughter had a likeness to Friar Tuck whose Robin Hood, albeit too briefly, Musharraf had become. A version of the English legend has the monk fording the river in Sherwood Forest with Robin Hood on his back when, in midstream, for no apparent reason, he hurled his friend into the freezing waters. That’s more or less what the maulana is said to have done with Musharraf.

A recent JUH statement effectively endorsed the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy.

In recent days, the cleric from the doctrinaire Deoband school of Muslim theology has been raging at Imran Khan, accusing the prime minister of insincerity towards the Kashmiri people facing Indian high-handedness since Aug 5. The stance is double-edged.

Fazlur Rehman has friends in high places with the Indian government. Besides, he has the entire Jamiatul Ulema-i-Hind (JUH) and the Deoband seminary eating out of his hands. Atal Behari Vajpayee embraced him and Manmohan Singh welcomed him to the prime ministerial residence. This was around the time when Benazir Bhutto was struggling to get an appointment with Vajpayee in New Delhi, when, as the grapevine had it, she was seeking his intervention to iron things out with Gen Musharraf.

Important Pakistani visitors from the left and liberal corner have not had the ease of access to the prime minister’s office in recent years as the maulana did. His equation with the Modi establishment is not clear, but given the Indian prime minister’s chummy relationship with the rulers of Saudi Arabia — a common link between Rehman and the JUH — it’s not difficult to imagine an agreeable prospect.

The fact that the maulana would routinely drive off to the Deoband seminary, not far from the Indian capital, following his official sojourns, suggests a link between the two stops. That P. Chidambaram made a much-publicised visit to the seminary as home minister further indicates a strong political interest between the Indian government and the orthodox clerics of Deoband. And perhaps it also delivers a handy vote bank that the clerics control.

There are Indian Muslim groups as well as non-Muslims who harbour sympathy for the Kashmiri people, but it is mostly with regard to their claim on Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy within the Indian arrangement. Such groups also speak up against perennially violated human rights endured by the mainly Muslim people of the disputed area. To that extent the JUH has stood with the Kashmiri people, but only from the perspective that their interests were not separate from those of Indian Muslims.

In 2010, during Congress rule there was a surge in India’s stand-off with Kashmiri Muslims, and the JUH, a close cross-border comrade of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, did express its formulaic sympathy. A recent statement was, however, more assertive in its pro-government stance, effectively endorsing the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy.

“It is our belief that the welfare of the people of Kashmir lies in getting integrated with India. The inimical forces and the neighbouring country are bent upon destroying Kashmir. The oppressed and beleaguered people of Kashmir are stuck between opposing forces,” the JUH argued, virtually ad-libbing the official view on the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy. “The JUH stands steadfastly for the unity and integrity of the country and has accorded it paramount importance. As such it can never support any separatist movement rather it considers such movements not only harmful for India but also for the people of Kashmir.”

The irony is stark. Both the JUH and its Pakistani counterpart headed by Fazlur Rehman are or should be at loggerheads on Kashmir. And they are also tethered to the Saudi establishment for inspiration and sustenance. However, Saudi Arabia has veered close to the Indian stand and even felicitated Modi with its highest civilian award. Imran Khan has chosen to swallow the disappointment and has signalled that it’s business as usual by choosing to fly to the UN General Assembly session in New York on the Saudi crown prince’s private plane. The Kashmiris must be watching the denouement with awe and trepidation.

The JUH leverages Indian Muslims in what is clearly a rather self-serving relationship it has with any government of the day. But this is also how the Hindu right prefers to project the equation. Add­re­s­­­­­sing the media in the aftermath of the derailed Agra summit, then senior minister Jaswant Singh obliquely described the link between Indian Muslims and the Kashmir issue. The gist of his comment was this: if India gives away Kashmir to comply with the two-nation theory, should Indian Muslims not be put in trains to Pakistan?

A different answer to the question came from a senior leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in 1992. Javed Mir had dodged the security dragnet when practically every Hurriyat leader was put behind the bars. I asked Mir to comment on the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, which had just taken place. He said he couldn’t care less what became of it or the dispute, because it concerned Indian Muslims who had shown scant interest in the struggles of the Kashmiris.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.


Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2019



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