Guess Who Has Discovered Social Media? Kashmiri Leaders

15 December 2015
Catch News
Gowhar Geelani

Srinagar: The digital age has egged even the most traditional politicians to become tech-savvy so that they can reach out to people and enhance their support base. And those in Kashmir valley are no different. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Srinagar's head priest, has become active on Twitter to connect to Netizens, especially the younger generation in Kashmir. He has rapidly added followers online and the number currently is 10,900. 'I am a learner,' the Mirwaiz says. According to him, reaching out to people in the digital space is doubly important in an otherwise 'choked atmosphere'. 'The idea is to make use of this strong and accessible medium. When there are bans and curbs on our physical movement, seminars, programmes, it is critical to stay connected to our people through other means like the Internet,' Umar Farooq told Catch. Many independent Kashmir watchers maintain that people in Jammu and Kashmir are largely 'disillusioned' with the political leadership, cutting across ideological divide. And social media has the potential to 'bridge the gap' that exists between the people and their public representatives. 'The social media provides us an excellent opportunity to stay connected to our youth. And I must say that they have brilliant and innovative ideas,' Farooq, the chairman of a faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), said. He has used Twitter to express his opinion on both regional and global issues. He welcomed the Saudi Arabian government's decision to allow women to vote in local bodies elections for the first time recently. Welcome! The decision of the Saudi Government to allow women the right to vote for the first time in local bodies election! - Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (@MirwaizKashmir) December 12, 2015 The moderate Hurriyat leader also commented on the renewed Pakistan-India engagement: Any dialogue was better than a deadlock he said while insisting that Kashmiris must be taken on board. Jugglery of words,composite then resumed and now comprehensive ! Won't complain as long as Kashmir and Kashmiris are on board - Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (@MirwaizKashmir) December 9, 2015 The Hurriyat Conference led by the Mirwaiz recently started a new initiative called 'Ask Hurriyat' on Twitter with an aim to interact with the youth ('Youth for Kashmir') and answer their questions. 'This initiative provided us a chance to take some genuine criticism related to what people think about APHC. In most cases, the state government deliberately tries to create a wedge with distortions and misinformation campaign,' the Mirwaiz said. 'Honestly speaking, I was not aware of new digital concepts like 'Twitter Townhall'. Social media is perhaps the strongest medium today,' he said. 'Feedback from our youth on Twitter and Facebook has been rewarding in many ways. We are also planning weekly YouTube broadcasts and live streaming,' he added. Who else Mirwaiz Umar is relatively new to Twitter. On the other hand, tech-savvy former chief minister Omar Abdullah has been on Twitter for long. He has 12 lakh followers. In fact, young politicians across the ideological divide are making use of the social media space to articulate their viewpoints. Young pro-India Kashmiri politicians like Sajjad Lone (Peoples Conference), Salman Anees Soz (Congress), Waheed Ur Rehman Parra (PDP), Junaid Azim Mattu and Tanvir Sadiq (National Conference) are also active on Twitter and Facebook. Waheed Ur Rehman Parra, political analyst to Jammu and Kashmir's Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has 872 followers while his opponent Junaid Azim Mattu, state spokesperson to the National Conference, has nearly 6,000 followers on Twitter. 'I personally find social media powerful. It is the sort of a bilateral medium where one gets to hear the other side as well. There is no dearth of ideas. My experiences with the youth during interactions on any specific issue have been fruitful,' Mattu told Catch. On several occasions the state government clamped down Internet services to stop people, especially the youth, from expressing their views on controversial issues. Kashmir witnessed an unprecedented 72-hour ban on Internet during Eid-ul-Adha when the beef-ban controversy was at its peak. More recently, the state government also stopped Internet during the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Srinagar on 7 November. The Mirwaiz is aware of such bans on Internet but says that as long as 'we have the option available' the Hurriyat will continue to make use of this 'powerful medium'.