Keeping the Faith

How the Jama’at-e-Islami chronicles the failure of mainstream politics in Kashmir

Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times /Getty Images
Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times /Getty Images
06 April, 2019

Shortly before midnight on 17 March, Rizwan Pandit, a 29-year-old school principal and resident of Awantipora, a town around thirty-five kilometres south of Srinagar, was picked up from his house by security officials accompanied by the local police. Two days later, the Jammu and Kashmir police issued a statement announcing that Rizwan had “died in police custody” and that he had been taken into custody in connection with a “terror case.” The police have since revealed little information about the circumstances surrounding his detention and subsequent death, but they posthumously registered a case against him for “trying to escape from custody.” According to news reports, a preliminary post mortem report states that “profuse bleeding resulting from multiple injuries” could have caused his death. Rizwan was a known sympathiser of an Islamist organisation called the Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir, of which his father, Asadullah Pandit, is a member.

The Indian state’s persecution and repression of the Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir, its members and sympathisers has a long history. Over the course of more than six decades, the Jama’at has adopted dual functions—of a socio-religious organisation running schools and mosques, and of a political organisation advocating the creation of an autonomous state of Kashmir governed by Islamic law. On 28 February, a couple of weeks before Rizwan was picked up, the Indian government banned the Jama’at, marking the organisation’s third ban in its history. But despite its vocal opposition to India’s secular democratic setup, the National Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party—both mainstream political parties in Kashmir—immediately condemned the ban on the Jama’at. Indeed, it is a complex task to place the Jama’at within Kashmir’s political landscape.

The history of the Jama’at-e-Islami is a story weaved into Kashmir’s history, and inextricably linked with the political parties that have ruled over the region. All three bans on the Jama’at came when pro-India mainstream political parties in Kashmir were at their weakest and the Indian government was confronted with an upsurge in the Kashmiri resistance movement. Five days before the ban this year, over 150 Jama’at members were arrested in a series of night raids across Kashmir. The police also arrested Yasin Malik, a prominent separatist leader who heads the Kashmiri nationalist group Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. In the following month, the JKLF was also banned. With the Jama’at’s third ban, memories of detentions, executions and disappearances from a brutal armed-forces campaign against rising militancy during the 1990s have returned to haunt the members and sympathisers of the Jama’at.

The Jama’at-e-Islami was founded in the early 1940s by an Islamic theologian and philosopher Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi, who believed that Islam serves as a code of life to govern all aspects of the individual and collective existence of Muslims. The Jama’at, as envisioned by Maududi, seeks to establish an Islamic state governed by the law of God, and argue against a political order founded on democracy and secularism. After Partition, Maududi settled in Pakistan and the Jama’at split into two—the Jama’at-e-Islami Pakistan and the Jama’at-e-Islami Hind. In 1952, a distinct branch was officially set up in Kashmir, separated from the Indian branch, known as the Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir.

In Kashmir, the Jama’at’s ideology challenged the prevailing Sufi traditions in the valley, which were credited with enabling an atmosphere of coexistence of different religions, by asserting political Islam. The Sufi traditions continue to be often represented by the Indian state through a narrative of Kashmiriyat—a supposed confluence of Sufi and Shaivite Hindu practices. This narrative was also frequently invoked to deny political Islam—represented in Kashmir primarily by the Jama’at—any space or participation in public life.

Several Kashmiri academics, such as Hameeda Nayeem, have argued that the Indian government used the narrative of Kashmiriyat to depoliticise the Sufi identity and subsume the Kashmiri nationalist movement within its own version of secularism. Central to the projection of this narrative was the National Conference, one of Kashmir’s oldest political parties, and its leader, Sheikh Abdullah. It is against this backdrop that the Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir gained ground in Kashmir. Understanding the role that it has played in the valley requires revisiting the region’s complex political history.

In the first elections held in Kashmir, in 1951, the National Conference aligned with the Congress party, which held power in New Delhi, and contested assembly elections. Only two of 75 assembly constituencies went to polls—opposition parties were not allowed to file nominations in the rest—and Abdullah was appointed the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir, as the head of the state was identified at the time.

Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference played a major role in the reification of Kashmiriyat and suppression of political Islam in the valley—as such, the party has always been at loggerheads with the Jama’at. In fact, the Jama’at’s opposition to NC was so deep-rooted that they even opposed landmark land reforms proposed by the Abdullah government, which imposed a ceiling on land ownership in Kashmir and redistributed the rest among sharecroppers and landless labourers without compensating the land owner. The land reforms fundamentally changed the socio-economic status of its peasantry, and yet, the Jama’at called the forcible distribution of the land un-Islamic.

One explanation for the Jama’at’s opposition is that they feared Kashmiris would support Abdullah if a plebiscite were to be conducted. The Jama’at, striving for a state governed by Islamic law, was keen on joining Pakistan, and Abdullah’s opposition to it was well known. But the Indian government never conducted a plebiscite, and in 1953, Abdullah was arrested for advocating freedom for Kashmir. He remained in prison for much of the next two decades. Kashmir witnessed a series of National Conference regimes, installed at the behest of the Congress, until 1964, following which Jawaharlal Nehru did away with the pretence of National Conference functioning as a separate party, and it was merged with the Congress.

During this time, the Jama’at began making inroads into the Kashmiri social and religious ethos. The organisation set up schools that incorporated Islamic theology into the modern education curriculum, began producing its own textbooks, and routinely held massive religious congregations, known as ijtimas, which introduced Kashmiris to new socio-religious thinking. Abdullah’s arrest and the autocratic rule of the National Conference and Congress drove large numbers of Kashmiri youth to become sympathisers of the Jama’at. The Jama’at also took advantage of the spread of literacy in the state—which stood at abysmally low levels during the Dogra rule that prevailed in Kashmir before the entry of popular politics—and published books, tracts and dailies in Urdu.

By the 1970s, the Jama’at-run schools were offering education to thousands across Kashmir, following which the organisation decided to bring them together under the Falah-e-Aam—which translates to “welfare for all”—Trust. In 1972, the trust was registered as a “non-political” body dedicated to “education and service to mankind.” The Jama’at’s schools and social activities played a large role in its acceptance and popularity in Kashmiri society.

The Jama’at’s organisational structure is highly institutionalised and hierarchical. It is headed by a president, or amir-i-jama’at, and includes multiple levels of affiliation with the organisation. Induction into the Jama’at as a rukun, or member, happens only after years of training in social and religious services. As such, the Jama’at has always had a limited number of members. In his memoir, Curfewed Night, Basharat Peer, the Kashmiri writer and journalist, identifies the Jama’at as a “minority in Kashmir.” Indeed, if one considers its membership, then Peer’s description is accurate—but if judged on the support that its political objectives receive, then Jama’at’s popularity supersedes that of any political group in Kashmir today.

The Jama’at first entered electoral politics by fielding some of its members as independent candidates in panchayati elections held in 1963, and again in 1969. The organisation came under heavy criticism for moving away from its socio-religious identity at the time. But the Jama’at responded to its critics, noting that the organisation could spread the message of its mission more effectively through positions of power, such as public office. Qari Saifuddin, the organisation’s secretary-general in the early 1970s, defended the decision to contest elections, noting, “If through constitutional and democratic means it is possible to bring about any sort of reform in the system of governance, the Jama’at-e-Islami cannot ignore them.”

But it was never able to make significant inroads into the assembly. In 1971, the Jama’at participated in the Lok Sabha elections and lost all the seats it contested. The next year, it secured five out of the 22 seats it contested in assembly elections—its highest tally ever. The Jama’at continued to fight elections for close to two decades, till 1987. According to Abdul Ghani Bhat, a separatist and former MUF leader, contesting elections was a means to spread the Jama’at’s message. “Our motive was to educate and engage youth,” Bhat told the weekly magazine Kashmir Life. “That I guess we did. We never wanted to form a government.”

The changing political landscape of India in the 1970s significantly impacted the Jama’at. After India’s war with Pakistan, in 1971, which led to the creation of Bangladesh, the two heads of state, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi, signed what came to be known as the Shimla Agreement, deciding to “settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them.” In effect, the dispute over Kashmir, too, was reduced to bilateral negotiations and “other peaceful means” were never properly explored. In the years that followed, India claimed that Kashmir was an internal problem that does not concern Pakistan.

In 1975, Sheikh Abdullah allowed the Emergency to be extended to Jammu and Kashmir. Abdullah and the National Conference played a major role in suppressing political Islam in the valley and as such has always been at loggerheads with the Jama’at-e-Islami. Paul Popper/Getty Images

India’s win in this war softened Abdullah’s resolve. He was released from jail and entered into an accord with Indira Gandhi to return to Kashmir as its chief minister, but as the head of a Congress government. In effect, Abdullah accepted Kashmir’s ascension to the Indian state, and consequently crushed the demand for self determination. The Jama’at vehemently opposed the accord, terming it a gross violation of United Nations resolutions on Kashmir, which recognised a plebiscite as crucial to resolving the dispute. Though there was little opposition to the accord from other quarters, the Jama’at was able to mobilise public support and foster an agitation against Sheikh, characterising him as a sell-out who betrayed Kashmir and its people for a chief ministerial position. In order to reassert his control over the situation and offer India another innings in the valley, Abdullah decided to go after the Jama’at.

After Indira Gandhi declared Emergency, in 1975, Abdullah allowed it to be extended to Jammu and Kashmir even though the special status conferred under Article 370 of the Indian constitution prevented its application over the region. Soon after Emergency was declared, the Jama’at was banned for the first time, leaving the National Conference and the Congress as the only active political parties in Jammu and Kashmir.

In its immediate aftermath, the Jama’at’s offices were sealed, its schools were shut down, and its leaders were arrested, included elected representatives such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the powerful separatist leader who was then a Jama’at member. In his autobiography, Wular Kinarey—“By the banks of Wular”—Geelani writes that Indira Gandhi was against imposing emergency in Jammu and Kashmir, but Abdullah encouraged her in order to suppress his opponents. The ban continued for two years, until 1977.

After the ban was lifted, the Jama’at began galvanising support, holding large public meetings across Kashmir, and setting up its student wing, the Islami Jami’at-i-Tulaba—Islamic Union of Students. In 1979, under its first president, Shaikh Tajammul, the Tulaba launched an agitation demanding the introduction of compulsory Islamic education in government schools. They feared the growing Westernisation of the Kashmiri youth, and sought to combat it through appeals to Islam.

As the Jama’at was rebuilding itself after the ban, events in Pakistan cast their shadow on Kashmir. On 4 April 1979, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged to death by Zia-ul-Haq, who served as Pakistan’s sixth president after overthrowing Bhutto in a military coup two years earlier. Following Bhutto’s execution, National Conference workers began attacking the Jama’at and its members, alleging that the organisation was close to Zia and complicit in Bhutto’s hanging. The violence, which ranged from attacks on its members to large-scale arson and looting of their houses and Jama’at’s offices, received active support from the Sheikh Abdullah government. In various places, apple orchards belonging to Jama’at members and sympathisers were cut down, and even schools were burnt to ashes. Hundreds of Jam’at members and sympathisers had to flee their villages with their families. The attacks continued for at least three days in most areas, stretching up to a week in some parts of Kashmir. According to the Jama’at’s estimates, property worth over Rs 38 crore was destroyed.

The 1980s witnessed a powerful resurgence of the Kashmiri movement for self-determination, which exploded into a full-blown militant struggle by the end of the decade. In the 1983 assembly elections, the Jama’at failed to win any of the 26 seats in which it contested, and alleged that the elections were rigged to ensure their defeat. The National Conference, now helmed by Sheikh’s son, Farooq Abdullah, won with a clear majority. In the following years, the rise of the anti-Muslim right-wing in India coupled with lack of internal democracy in Kashmiri politics led to a growing anti-India movement in Kashmir. The Jama’at and the militant group Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, or JKLF, took advantage of this public sentiment by mobilising support for the movement.

Matters came to a head with the assembly elections of 1987—a watershed moment in Kashmir’s political history, and the last elections that the Jama’at would contest directly. Ahead of the polls, Kashmir witnessed the emergence of the Muslim United Front, a new political coalition of Islamist parties, helmed by the Jama’at, to challenge the dominance of the Congress-National Conference binary in the valley. The MUF fought the elections on a platform of establishing Islamic rule in Kashmir, and they were expected to win in large numbers, in the wake of widespread public disillusionment and anger with the Indian government. As the counting began, it became clear that MUF had received encouraging response for a debut electoral contest, and most estimates put their final tally at a maximum of fifteen or twenty seats.

Yet, when the results were announced, the National Conference was declared to have won 40 seats, followed by the Congress with 26—the MUF won four seats. The elections were widely believed to have been rigged, reinforced by reports of goons taking over polling stations and ballot boxes pre-stamped in favour of the National Conference. A number of MUF leaders were arrested, and several others were beaten inside the counting halls. The election results set off a series of protests and triggered an armed insurgency against India.

Kashmiri youth, many of whom were MUF supporters, began to cross over to Pakistan in large numbers for arms training, seeing armed revolt as the only response to the repression. They returned as members of pro-independence militant groups. Muhammad Yusuf Shah, a MUF candidate, would take on the name Sayeed Salahuddin, and eventually rise to head the Hizbul Mujahideen. His election manager, Yasin Malik, would go on to head the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front.

The JKLF was the brainchild of the Kashmiri militant leaders, Amanullah Khan and Maqbool Bhat, who formed the group in the early 1960s—then known as the Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front—in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. Immediately after the formation of the JKNLF, Bhat returned to the valley to train Kashmiri youth. He was subsequently arrested on charges of sabotage and murder in crimes that allegedly took place in 1966, and he defended his actions stating, “I could not reconcile to the new political set-up brought about in Kashmir after Sheikh Abdullah’s dismissal and arrest in 1953.” He was sentenced to death in 1980, and executed four years later. The Jama’at published an obituary in its mouthpiece, Azan, which appeared to distance itself from advocating an armed struggle to attain independence, and did not use the customary suffix, “shahid,” or martyr, in describing him.

After the rigging of the 1987 elections, the JKLF spearheaded the militant movement for the complete independence of Jammu and Kashmir from both Pakistan and India. It relied mostly on the diaspora activists in Muzaffarabad and London, and the Kashmiris crossing over for training. Yasin Malik, too, crossed over to Pakistan, and in 1989, he returned to the valley as a militant commander of the JKLF. Soon after, the Hizbul Mujahideen announced its arrival on the Kashmiri militant landscape.

Despite both fighting against the Indian state for Kashmir’s freedom, the JKLF and the Hizb were ideological opponents on the question of the type of government to be formed. Muhammad Ahsan Dar, the founder and former head of the Hizb, called the group the “sword arm of Jama’at.” Though the Jama’at never officially accepted this affiliation, it did not denounce the new military group or decline Dar’s statement either. The Hizb, like the Jama’at, sought to create an independent Islamic state. In fact, most of the Jama’at members publicly associated themselves with the Hizb, strengthening the organisation and structure of the militant group. The JKLF, on the other hand, was inclined towards establishing a state on the principles of a secular democracy. As a result, Kashmir witnessed clashes between the JKLF and the Hizb, leading to the killings of scores of supporters on both sides. But given the social and organisational acceptance that the Hizb enjoyed in Kashmir—owed, in large part, to the ostensible support of the Jama’at—the JKLF could not keep up the fight.

In the 1990s, the space for popular politics in Kashmir was completely overrun by the increasing number of militant groups. Thousands of militants belonging to different militant organisations, most of which were splinter groups of the JKLF, began targeting not only the military symbols of the Indian state, but also the civilian collaborators who formed the political mainstream. In a September 2010 profile of Geelani in The Caravan, Sheikh Muhammad Hassan, a former amir of the Jama’at, noted that the separatist leader was initially hesitant about supporting the militants, but later argued that members of its student wing, the Tulaba, were among the ranks of the Hizb. “We cannot disown our men fighting in the front,” Hassan recalled that Geelani had said.

The insurgency took an even graver turn with the brutal repression perpetuated by the Indian government. In January 1990, Jagmohan was appointed the governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Two days after his appointment, over fifty protestors were killed by the Central Reserve Police Force, in what came to be known as the Gaw Kadal massacre. Other similar massacres followed. This period was also marked by militants targeting Kashmiri Pandits—though the militants have argued that they only attacked the Pandits who were seen as collaborating with the Indian government—which led to the exodus of hundreds and thousands from the valley.

Amid the brutal militancy and counter-insurgency operations, in 1990, the Jagmohan administration imposed the second ban on the Jama’at, which continued till 1995. Once again, the Jama’at’s schools were shut and its offices sealed. This time, the crackdown on the Jama’at was significantly more severe, marked by summary executions of many of its members. In 1994, the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, a splinter militant group of the JKLF, transformed itself into a counter-insurgent militia working at the behest of the Indian government. The Ikhwan comprised of surrendered militants, and enjoyed the patronage of the government and its security agencies. They specifically targeted members of the Jama’at, to break their social and ideological ties with Hizb.

As the intensity of militancy declined, the Ikhwan’s members were accommodated into the local police, the Indian Territorial Army and even into Kashmir’s political parties. In the wake of the attacks against its ranks, the Jama’at decided to publicly distance itself from the militancy, in 1997. Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, who served as the Jama’at’s amir at the time, was among several members of the organisation placed under arrest during the second ban. Upon his release, he declared that the Jama’at has “no relationship” with any militant organisation.

In the wake of targeted attacks against the Jama’at during Kashmir’s militancy period, Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, who served as the Jama’at ’s amir at the time, publicly distanced the organisation from militant groups, in 1997. He repeated the assertion in 2015 after he was re-elected to the position again. Shahid Tantray

It is widely believed that this public disassociation from militancy created internal differences within the Jama’at ranks. For instance, Geelani, the powerful separatist leader who had been a member of the Jama’at since the 1950s, had always been more inclined towards an armed resistance. In fact, Geelani had become a kind of a quasi-spiritual leader to the members of the Hizb after the militancy intensified. Following Bhat’s statement, Geelani made his opposition clear, stating, “His reference to militancy may be his own view and can’t be taken as the party’s viewpoint.” When Bhat was re-elected the amir of the Jama’at, in 2000, the cold war between the two had already led to fractures within the organisation. Eventually, Geelani left the Jama’at and established the Tehreek-i-Hurriyat, a separatist group, in 2004.

In July 1999, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, a former union home minister, announced that he was splitting from the Congress to form his own political party, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party, to counter the dominance of the National Conference in Kashmir. In its first electoral contest, in 2002, the party won 16 seats and formed a coalition government with the Congress. After years of support to the National Conference yielded no results in turning Kashmiris in favour of mainstream Indian politics, the Congress found a new ally in the PDP.

The PDP used the same symbolism that members of the National Conference had used in the past to mobilise people. Most of these symbols contained Islamic and pro-Pakistan overtones. For instance, Mirza Afzal Beg, Sheikh Abdullah’s trusted lieutenant, used to carry a lump of Pakistani rock salt in his pocket, wrapped in a green handkerchief—towards the end of his speech, he would take out the salt with a dramatic gesture and exhibit it to his audience, as if to indicate that if his party won, Pakistan would not be far away. But that was only a ruse.

The PDP and Sayeed’s daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, repeated the strategy. For instance, the PDP’s choice of a green-coloured party flag and Mufti’s sartorial decisions in wearing a green abaya during election campaigns, both serve as hints of its association with Islam and Pakistan. The PDP’s usage of a pen and an inkpot as the party symbol is also significant because it was the symbol of the MUF. From 1996 onwards, Mufti began to visit families of the disappeared and slain militants, a practice she has resumed lately when out of power, to assure them of justice.

The PDP had a curious relation with the Jama’at. Following the 2008 assembly elections, an Indian Express headline read: “Despite boycott call, Jamaat cadres come out in support of PDP.” One of the voters quoted in the story, a resident of a Jama’at stronghold, stated that she voted for the PDP because of its election symbol. The report stated, “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.” The Jama’at’s amir denied the allegations that its members had voted despite a separatists’ boycott call, adding, “Some supporters may have voted, but there is a clear difference between a Jamaat member and a Jamaat supporter.” This line is often repeated by the Jama’at leadership when it is put in a tight position by the utterances and actions of its sympathisers.

Given the political history of the Jama’at—in particular, its hostile relationship with the National Conference—it would not be implausible to imagine that it actively supported the PDP in the elections. The Indian Express report concluded, “As political alliances go, the PDP is the Jamaat’s ‘friend’ only as far as they have common enemies.” Whether the PDP used the Jama’at to win an election, or the Jama’at used the PDP to keep the National Conference out of power, is a matter of debate. Yet, it is clear that the Congress regime in New Delhi had dethroned the National Conference leadership to allow a party with a “soft-separatist” image to take over as India’s new representatives in Srinagar.

Today, Mehbooba Mufti is vehemently opposing the ban on Jama’at, and has declared that she would revoke the ban on both the Jama’at and the JKLF if the PDP is elected to power. Her party has even offered legal help to both the banned groups. But after the killing of the Hizb commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, Mufti, who was the chief minister at the time, had made a veiled attack on the Jama’at. “Those people, of a particular political party, who couldn’t go to their homes in the Ikhwan period are now conspiring against the government,” Mufti said. “They are thankless.” By accusing the Jama’at of being “thankless,” she appeared to suggest that she had helped them escape the Ikhwan’s persecution, but when her government needed them, they were not returning the favour.

The Indian Lok Sabha elections and Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections of 2014 drastically changed the politics of the region. The Bharatiya Janata Party defeated the Congress with a sweeping majority at the centre, and also won 25 seats in the assembly elections. The BJP then went on to form a coalition government with the PDP, keeping both the National Conference and the Congress out of power. For Kashmiris, the BJP’s ascension to power was reminiscent of a campaign by the Jammu-based political party, Jammu Praja Parishad, in the early 1950s. The JPP was founded by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Balraj Madhok, and eventually merged into the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. Throughout its electoral campaign, the JPP demanded, “Ek nishan, ek vidhan aur ek pradhan”—One constitution, one flag and one sovereign head. In continuation of the JPP’s slogan, the BJP has consistently called for the abrogation of Article 370.

In the years after the militancy, however, the Jama’at has distanced itself from the activities of resistance politics and has been focusing on areas of social service, education and religious reform. The schools and orphanages run by the Jama’at also admit children of Jammu and Kashmir police officers. In July 2015, Srinagar’s police control room organised iftar and dinner for children living in the Raahat Manzil, an orphanage-cum-school run by the Jama’at that houses around five hundred children. Among the attendees was Imtiyaz Hussain, a senior superintendent of police in Kashmir, who is known for his counter-insurgency operations. Moreover, the Jama’at and the Tulaba played a major role in relief and rehabilitation efforts during the floods that swept Kashmir in 2014, earning the organisations high praise across Kashmiri society.

In 2014, members of the Jamaat-e-Islami played a major role in the flood relief efforts in Kashmir, including wading through waters to distribute relief materials among the stranded flood victims in Srinagar. Adnan Abidi / REUTERS

The Jama’at’s history reveals that the Indian government’s involvement in Kashmir has followed the same script since 1940s, to ensure the continuity of its rule. When the pre-Independence political party Muslim Conference was making the case for Kashmir to join Pakistan, India facilitated the formation of the National Conference to put an end to the MC and its politics. The Indian government resorted to similar measures against Sheikh Abdullah, incarcerating him for nearly two decades once he began criticising the gradual erosion of the terms of Kashmir’s accession to the Indian union. Since then, the Indian state has periodically repressed the Jama’at to ensure that Kashmir’s mainstream political parties uphold India’s interest in the body-politic of the valley.

Though Jama’at aspires to establish a counter-hegemonic order based on Islamic principles in Kashmir, the organisaton’s history also reveals that in its attempts to realise this objective, it has often compromised on its basic ideology. First, by participating in elections, then by its deliberate ambiguity about its relationship with Kashmir’s militant movement, and most recently, by distancing itself from the politics of self-determination altogether and instead focussing on its social services. Moreover, the Jama’at student wing Tulaba, as it exists today, even facilitates career counselling to students aspiring to join the Kashmir Administrative Services. The KAS officers serve the Indian government to effectively administer the institutions of secular democracy in Jammu and Kashmir—in direct conflict with the Jama’at’s ideology.

In this context, the obvious question emerges—why did the Indian state ban the Jama’at? For the past several years, particularly after a 2008 agitation over the transfer of 100 acres of forest land to the board managing the Amarnath temple, the Indian state has struggled to maintain a narrative of normalcy in the valley. Its rule over the streets has waned and it has been largely controlling the territory through strategies of violence and intimidation. In its aftermath, a number of political parties who participate in elections, their prominent leaders, and several political observers have repeated the same observation: the mainstream in Kashmir is becoming irrelevant.

Sajad Lone, who became New Delhi’s person of interest in Kashmir after the BJP and PDP split, has said that efforts to erode Article 35A of the Indian constitution—which prevents non-permanent residents from purchasing property in Jammu and Kashmir—would “render the mainstream space irrelevant.” The Congress leader Tariq Hameed Qarra has expressly said that “every mainstream party and politician has become irrelevant.” The National Conference’s Nasir Aslam Wani and the PDP’s Nizam Ud Din Bhat have also spoken of the shrinking space for mainstream politics today has made a reference to this. In a February 2019 opinion piece for the Indian Express, the BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, too, alluded to it, writing, “India has a huge problem with the regional narrative in the Kashmir Valley that helps Pakistan enormously. That narrative is one of separatism—soft or hard depending on the situation—alienation and victimhood.”

Indeed, the space for the mainstream political activity has been pushed into a corner in today’s Kashmir. The culture of election rallies has completely disappeared from the scene. Political parties have to hold public meetings inside their fortified offices or at select locations. Political activists are heckled by people in their constituencies. For more than three years, the Anantnag parliamentary seat has been left vacant— since Mufti left the seat to contest assembly elections, in June 2016—because the Election Commission has failed to conduct bypolls for the post keeping in view the security situation. The seat will finally go to polls in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, but the elections for the single seat will take place over three phases in April and May this year. The Election Commission also announced that assembly elections would not be held simultaneously for the “security of the candidates.”

A significant factor in creating this impression that the mainstream is becoming irrelevant again in Kashmir has been the increasing number of people joining the militancy in recent years, and the outpouring of public support for them in funerals and “flush out” operations by the Indian armed forces. But the armed forces have been unable to flush out the militants or break its structure of over-ground networks. It is in this context that India’s targeting of the Jama’at must be understood, because it is still seen as a major mobiliser of support for the “separatist” narrative in Kashmir, even if it has politically distanced itself from the same.

In order to facilitate the activities of the mainstream in Kashmir, the Indian government appears to have decided to hollow out the ideological opposition, while simultaneously continuing its military operations and raids on members of other organisations that support the Kashmiri right to self-determination. Moreover, with the Indian government’s imposition of governor’s rule in the state being slated to continue until at least June 2019, the BJP has also started raising controversial issues. For instance, while the BJP-PDP alliance ensured that status quo would continue on the special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, it has become a contentious issue once again—especially ahead of the upcoming elections.

On 28 March, the finance minister Arun Jaitley wrote in a blog post that Article 35A was “constitutionally vulnerable” and that it denied the residents of Jammu and Kashmir a “booming economy, economic activity and jobs.” Incidentally, the crackdown on Jama’at members before the third ban had taken place two days before a Supreme Court hearing on a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional provision.

The objective behind repressing Jama’at is not simply to facilitate the Kashmiri mainstream to contest elections. Given the military strength India has available in Kashmir, and the Lok Sabha elections taking place, the assembly elections can surely be held at any point, and any percentage of voter turn-out could be made possible. The National Conference, the PDP or even the BJP could form government and continue the façade of normalcy in Kashmir.

The purpose of banning the Jama’at, and other pro-freedom parties such as the JKLF, is to allow political parties a resistance-free public space in which no one is raising a dissenting voice. The real objective is to create a pro-India perception by building a narrative that every Kashmiri is an Indian by choice. Ram Madhav’s opinion piece offers an insight on how the Indian government seeks to achieve this: “If he is misguided, lead him; if he is mischievous, punish him; if he is treacherous, banish him. But instill India in him.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identifies Abdul Ghani Bhat as a former Jama'at-e-Islami member. Bhat is a former MUF leader, but was not a Jama'at member. The Caravan regrets the error.