Did ties to Islamic group trigger the BJP pullout in Kashmir?
After her controversial decision to allot land to an Islamic group, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti's absence from a crucial meeting chaired by Modi was the last straw before the ruling party severed ties with the PDP in the state coalition
India’s conflict-ridden Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) went under governor’s rule on Wednesday, a day after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support from the state’s coalition government led by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). But speculation continues about what made the BJP pull out from the three-year alliance.
Highly placed sources said the PDP’s “growing affinity” with Jamiat-E-Ahli-Hadith (JAH), a local Muslim outfit allegedly loyal to Saudi Arabia’s extremist Wahabi ideology, triggered the Hindu right-wing party’s decision.
A senior PDP leader told Asia Times that the party’s “proximity with Jamiat proved deadly [for the alliance].” Sources said differences between the two had been mounting for around a fortnight, and the absence of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti from a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Niti Aayog — the federal government’s policy think-tank — on Monday June 18, proved the trigger. It prompted BJP President Amit Shah to call an urgent meeting with party ministers from the state and a day later, BJP announced its decision.
Ironically, senior PDP leader Dr Haseeb Drabu, who was ousted from the council of ministers for his controversial remark that Kashmir was a “social issue” in March this year, had been close to the BJP leadership in New Delhi ahead of Mehbooba’s ouster.
Sources said Drabu was in touch with BJP’s top leadership including key leader Ram Madhav, even on the morning of the day that BJP pulled out. But speaking to Asia Times, Drabu rejected the claims. “I have been at home in Mumbai for the last 20 days! I have not visited Delhi let alone camped there! You and your highly placed sources are completely wrong. I have not been in touch with anybody. Hope this puts the speculation at rest,” he wrote in an email.
The Jamait connection
In 2015, soon after their election win, the Muftis appointed middle-level official Lateef Uz Zamaan Deva as chairperson of the prestigious J&K Public Service Commission. Earlier, Deva had been deemed “ineligible” for the coveted post and a senior official was nominated. But officials said the Muftis preferred Deva, who is strongly connected with the Jamiat.
Later, Dr Mushtaq A Siddiqui, a medical practitioner who had been campaigning for the establishment of Jamiat’s Transworld Islamic University in Kashmir, was made Vice-Chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology. His appointment led to public outrage against “discrimination with deserving candidates for the top chair.”
Mushtaq’s wife Assia Siddiqi also benefited. A day before her retirement from government services this year, she was “unlawfully” elevated to be director of the Institute of Mathematical Science, with a two-year extension in her service.
In a video that surfaced last year, JAH general secretary Maulana Mushtaq Veeri was seen glamorizing the ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi while addressing a religious congregation in Kashmir. “When Salafis step into war, they don’t step back, much like (al-Baghdadi),” he said. Sources said police wanted to arrest Veeri for the provocative speech, but the PDP came to his rescue.
Then early this year the PDP-led government demarcated public land measuring around 100 kanals (about 12.5 acres) in the Narkara Wetland on the outskirts of Srinagar for the JAH to construct its university.
Senior leader of the Jamiat Abdul Lateef Al Kindi told media that the organization planned to consolidate its spread of 175 schools, and set up an Islamic college, with a medical and an engineering college.
But the decision evoked massive public outcry — the historic wetland, is a summer home for migratory birds coming from Siberia, and also serves as a crucial flood-basin. Sources said Srinagar-based Environmental Policy Group even filed a complaint, to no avail, with state Governor NN Vohra.
Despite the ongoing outcry, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti went on to grant JAH another 50 kanals of land for development of a separate Eidgah – a prayer enclosure – in Srinagar.
Official documents accessed by Asia Times reveal that Veeri had approached Mufti with a formal application seeking land, and after she wrote a letter to the divisional commissioner’s office approving the allotment.
Veeri defended JAH’s decision to approach the government saying, “nobody is thekedar [contractor] of the movement,” and described claims that his party was close to the PDP as a conspiracy. “This is all false, it’s all propaganda. It’s a part of the conspiracy to stain prominent Ulema of Kashmir. And you journalists should also be cautious and play their role. You should give it a right direction,” he said.
The BJP has opposed the PDP’s affinity towards Jamiat. The party’s state spokesperson Brig (Retd) Anil Gupta recently alleged that the Jamiat was spreading Wahabi ideology or fundamentalist Islamic views, adding that recent killings in Kashmir were a manifestation of this ideology.
Gupta called the Jamiat a Sunni sectarian organization and claimed it was funded by petrodollars from Saudi Arabia. He accused the group of gaining 250,000 members — more than 20% of Jammu and Kashmir’s Muslims — within a decade-and-a-half.
This was followed by a larger attack on the BJP’s Kashmir policy from close aide Shiv Sena. The BJP ultimately decided to end the coalition to avoid losing voters ahead of the upcoming national elections in 2019.
Jubilation over ouster
In the days since the BJP announced its pull-out from the alliance, Kashmir has witnessed unusual jubilation — on the ground and online.
While locals burst firecrackers in Mehbooba Mufti’s native Anantnag constituency, people mounted ridicule on the ousted government on social media. Witnesses said one of the most powerful ministers of the Mufti government — Syed Altaf Bukhari — was heckled near his residence in the heart of Srinagar.
The PDP-BJP alliance seemingly failed to deliver in its three years in power. Observers say amid the revival of the armed militancy, the only tangible achievement the government was able to show was the number of militants killed so far. Taking credit of the killings, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said: “The number of terrorists killed in the previous UPA-II government was 471 as compared to 619 killed during four years of BJP rule.”
But killing militants is what pushed the northern state into a period of high unrest that couldn’t be overcome even through a month-long ceasefire in Ramadan. The ceasefire was called off on Eid Ul Fitr, after the killings of a senior editor and an Indian Army Jawan, to resume a military crackdown on militants. Sources said Mufti was upset that the government did not extend the ceasefire it declared in May, even though it had support from Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat, who has refrained from attending the Niti Aayog meeting.
Since the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a local militant, in July 2016, more than 200 civilians have been killed, and some 20,000 wounded. Another 300 have also been blinded in clashes with security forces.
Concerned about the situation in Kashmir, the United Nations recently released its first-ever report on human rights abuses in the state. The report focuses largely on unrest witnessed the during the PDP-BJP alliance, and India has rejected the report.