Dissent and Democracy

For four million people living in an area of 85,805.8 square miles in the bosom of mighty Himalayas,Saturday ‘12 March 1932’ was a momentous day. On this day after years of struggle and sacrifices, ‘Maharaja Hari Singh on the recommendations of the Glancy Commission Report announced the grant of the rights to freedom of press and platform to the people of the State.’ To see this fundamental democratic right denied to the people of the state restored. It had taken the blood of hundreds of martyrs to convincethe Earl of Willingdon, British Viceroy and Governor General (1931-1936) to appoint a commission under BJ Glancy, an officer of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the British Indian Government, to look into the grievances of the people of the State. The restoration of this right in the state was the beginning of peoples tryst with democracy. Same year On 15, October, the first political organization All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference was set up for conducting the movement for establishing democratic institutions as envisaged in the memorandum presented to Lord Reading by Kashmir leaders in October 1924.

The whole objective behind recapitulating these historical developments is to suggest that people of Jammu and Kashmir had earned the freedom to association, assembly, carrying out social, religious and political activities and right to dissent during the feudal-autocratic rule much before these were bestowed upon people in other states in the sub-continent. Subsequently, these rights were also protected and guaranteed to the people in the Constitution.Nonetheless, after 1947, the political parties in power in the state, despite vowing for strengthening the democratic institutions in the state and protecting people’s right to freedom of expression, for achieving myopic political ends have been undoing the goals achieved after huge sacrifices. On Thursday, Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir was banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for five years, officials said. The order said the politico-religious organization was indulging in activities prejudicial to internal security and public. The party has been banned for the third time during the past forty-eight years since it for the first time participated in the electoral politics and contested elections for the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly. Before looking into its role as a religious and political organization, it would be of interest to look at the genesis of the organization and itsobjectives.

In undivided India, on 26 August 1941, Maulana Abul Ala Maududi founded Jama’at-e-Islami. On his invitation seventy-five persons assembled in Lahore. There were among them the Ulema, University graduates, artisans and professionals. The objective of the organizationwas the establishment of Deen (religion) which meant a revival of Islamic ideas and values in the life of the people. Known for his lucid diction, in Urdu, his literature on Islam was read all over India. In Srinagar, it was available at an iconic book shop Ghulam Mohammad Noor Mohammad Book Sellers. Few young men including a science graduate working in Islamia High School, Saad-u-Din was attracted towards the literature. In 1945, he along with another young man Qari Saif-u-Din reached Pathankot to participate in an All India Conference of the Jama’at-e-Islami held on 18 April 1945. In this conference, they met Maulana Ghulam Ahmad Ahrar of Shopian. On their return to Srinagar, the trio founded Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir. Immediately after the foundation a delegation of the newly established organization called upon Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Yusuf Shah, then most important religious leader. “The delegation included Hakim Ghulam Nabi, Maulana Ahrar, Maulana Mohammad Amin Shopiani, Maulana Ahsan Sahib and Qari Saif-U-Din”. He encouraged them to go ahead with the mission of spreading the message of Allah.

In its constitution, enforced in November 1953, under article 4, the organization explain its objective:
“The objective of the Jama’at-e-Islamia J&K is Iqaamat-e-Din, i.e. establishment of God’s religion, which is inspired by sole desire to earn Divine pleasure and secure success in the Hereafter.”

And under Article 5, clause 3, it explains that the organization wants to achieve this objective through democratic and constitutional methods while working for the reforms and righteous revolution. Looking at the organization through the prism of its constitution it is a religious organization ‘guided by Quran and Sunnah’ that does not believe in employing the ways and means against ethics, truthfulness or which may contribute to strife on earth.’
The Jama’at constitution does not explicitly say that the party can take part in the elections for the Parliament or the State Assembly. It also makes no mention of the Kashmir Dispute and self-determination. But, it has been part of the electoral process in the state, and equally, its leadership and cadres have from the early fifties sufferedlong incarcerations for supporting and agitating for the right to self-determination.

In the thick of election boycott culture that after 1951 elections for the Constituent Assembly was gospel for the resistance politics in the state, in 1971, it decided to go against the tide and participate in the polls. On 12 January 1971, the GoI declared the Plebiscite Front as anunlawfulbody, arrested its 350 activists and locked its office. Syed Mir Qasim in his memoirs mentions that he had suggested to Prime Minister Indra Gandhi declaring the Jama’at also as an unlawful body and prevent it from participating in the elections. Mrs Gandhi had not agreed to ban and preventing it from participating in the polls. The Jamat leaders took the oath of loyalty to the Indian and Kashmir Constitution of India, and it won some seats. (My life and Times p 132-133). The participation of the Jama’at was a trendsetter in as much asa couple of few more organization like the Political Conference contested the 1977 elections.

In 1975, the party fielded candidates against Sheikh Abdullah and Afzal Beg after the Indra-Abdullah Agreement, which had drawn curtains on the plebiscite movement in the state. Same year Sheikh Abdullah banned the Jama’at, sent all legislators of the party to jail and closed schools run by the organization- interestingly the GoI had not brought the state under emergency. The organization also contested 1977 and 1983 State Assembly elections- it did not have good success.And it also contested 1987 election as a constituent of the MUF. Like few other political parties that participated in the electoral process, after the notoriously rigged elections of 1987 elections, the Jama’at also remained away from the electoral politics. Nonetheless, for it being a cadre-based and grassroots organizations its influence has not diminished from the hustings. In 1990 the V.P. Singh government again banned the organization. In 1993 P.V. Narasimha Rao government revoked the order.

The strength of democracy lies in giving space to voices of dissent and not in denying it. Had Mrs Gandhi agreed to the suggestion of Syed Qasim, perhaps the Jama’at would not have participated in the future elections till 1987.