Despite Boycott Call, Jamaat Cadres Come Out In Support Of PDP

22 December 2008
The Indian Express

New Delhi: Afroza Akhtar’s reason for voting for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was simple - she identified with its poll symbol, a pen and inkpot. According to the resident of Bichroo village in Kulgam, she felt an affinity to the symbol as it was the same one used by the Muslim United Front in the 1987 elections when Jamaat-e-Islami’s Abdul Razak Mir won Kulgam constituency. Akhtar’s reason sounds simplistic but after six phases of polls, it is clear that Jamaat-e-Islami supporters voted for PDP across Kashmir, with only a few exceptions. This phenomenon has shifted the poll balance substantially in favour of the PDP. It was during the 1987 Assembly polls that Jamaat-e-Islami joined hands with other Islamic parties to form the Muslim United Front (MUF) to fight the National Conference-Congress alliance. When militancy erupted in 1990, MUF and its leadership joined the separatist struggle and later formed the Hurriyat Conference. Since the beginning of the separatist struggle, Akhtar’s Bichroo village has been a traditional boycott territory for two major reasons: it is a Jamaat stronghold and the native village of Kulgam’s last Jamaat legislator, Abdul Razak Mir, who was later assassinated by the counter-insurgent group, Ikhwan. The “tacit Jamaat-PDP alliance” has already become a poll issue and the National Conference (NC) is far from pleased. “Despite a boycott call issued by Jamaat-e-Islami, its cadres were allowed to vote for Mufti and PDP,” NC patron Farooq Abdullah said while addressing election rallies in Srinagar district. Claiming that this was “unfair”, Farooq added that Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani would “have to answer the (Kashmiri) nation”. The Amir (chief) of Jamaat-e-Islami, Sheikh Ghulam Hassan, however, denied that Jamaat members had voted. “These reports are not true. None of the Jamaat-e-Islami basic members voted in these elections,” he said. “Some supporters may have voted, but there is a clear difference between a Jamaat member and a Jamaat supporter.” When contacted, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti refused to elaborate on the issue, but the party’s Kulgam candidate, Nazir Ahmad Laway, admitted that Jamaat cadres had voted for him although he denied any pre-poll understanding. Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani also declined to discuss the matter. “What can I say about it? We expect that any constituent of Hurriyat should follow the boycott,” he said. If Jamaat-e-Islami says that its members didn’t vote, what can we say?” The participation of Jamaat supporters in the elections and especially a calibrated choice to vote for the PDP has further undermined the separatist leadership’s poll boycott call. The separatist camp has only two parties with a strong cadre base and structure - Jamaat and Peoples Conference (PC). This election has witnessed a major shift in the attitude of the workers and supporters of both of these parties in favour of the polls. When mainstream political parties began their election campaigns in April, the Hurriyat moderates, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, were considering proxy participation. They also tried to de-link the election process from the larger question of Kashmir, signalling that they would not run a poll boycott campaign. The PC led by Sajjad Lone took a similar stance. Only Geelani stuck to his guns. Then, the Amarnath land row, which erupted late in May, had a massive ripple effect and changed political currents in the Valley. Despite the dove-hawk split, Mirwaiz joined Geelani in calling for a poll boycott as did Sajjad Lone. Ads By Google To everyone’s surprise, however, voters just weren’t listening. The massive voter turnout in the first phase of polling in Bandipore district was no fluke and the trend continued. For example, despite the boycott call, PC supporters voted against the party’s opponents across Kupwara and Handwara. With the changing political climate, Jamaat supporters also began rethinking the party’s boycott plan. Though there is no evidence that Jamaat issued a directive to its supporters to vote, it did not pursue a boycott. As in the case of the PC, their primary intention also revolved around supporting the mainstream party opposing their traditional ideological ‘enemies’, particularly the NC. Jamaat supporters came out in droves to vote for the PDP, which not only boasted the green Islamic colour and MUF’s pen and inkpot symbol but also had a Muslim-centric agenda since its inception in 1999. But the pro-PDP stance ‘of Jamaat supporters is not surprising given the history of the powerful Islamic organisation. Founded by Maulana Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi, Jamaat was established in Lahore in 1941 but split when partition took place. Jamaat’s founder in Kashmir, Saad-ud-din Tarabali aunched its activities with a focus on Muslim reforms, but it later joined electoral politics, with the Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah-led NC as its main opponent. In 1987, the party helped launch the MUF and fought the Assembly elections against a Congress-NC alliance. In fact, Mohamamd Yousuf Shah - now the chief of Hizbul Mujahideen - was the MUF’s candidate for Amira Kadal then. Although Jamaat associated itself with the separatist struggle, there were serious disagreements among its top brass regarding the party’s direct participation in militancy. The advocates for militancy won this debate and Hizbul Mujahideen became the military arm of the group. Later, when government-sponsored counter-insurgent group Ikhwan was launched, Jamaat-e-Islami became its main target. Jamaat then parted ways with Geelani and decided to return to its primary goal of social change and religious reform. Though the party remained wedded to the separatist ideology, it did not actively participate in either militancy or separatist politics. This election, however, witnessed a shift when Jamaat supporters decided to demonstrate its unspoken allegiance to the PDP. But as political alliances go, the PDP is the Jamaat’s ‘friend’ only as far as they have common enemies.