Unlike in Jammu where it is running an exclusively Hindutva campaign, the BJP has set about tapping the Muslim vote-bank in Kashmir. The RSS’s Muslim Rashtriya Manch and the Islamic organisation Jamaat Ulema-e-Hind have been silently working with the local clergy and among people to spread the message that “Narendra Modi is the only saviour of the interests of Kashmiri Muslims and he will ensure they have the same rights as citizens in Delhi and Mumbai do.”
A group of around 150 clerics of the Daryaganj-based Jamaat, which is close to the RSS and the BJP, has been working for two months to “build bridges with the local clergy” and market Modi’s development plan for Kashmir.
“There is a lot of fear here,” said Maulana Suhuib Qasmi, Jamaat national president. “We are talking to madrasa boards and mosque associations, and plan to talk even to Jamaat-e-Islami people, to remove the fear of the BJP and the RSS. The RSS is not anti-Muslim.”
Qasmi is a product of Darul Uloom, Deoband. He said it is “just a coincidence” that his organisation has a name similar to that of one of the country’s biggest Islamic organisations, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (which itself has two factions).
The visiting clerics have faced problems already. At an event held by the Muslim Rashtriya Manch and the Jamaat at a hotel, local clerics stormed out and started a protest, shouting slogans. Syed Waris Shah, president, Rabita Aima Masjid (coordination of imams of mosques), told The Indian Express they were deceived by Qasmi, who made them listen to lectures on Islam by the visiting clerics rather than the BJP’s political campaign. Qasmi said it was a misunderstanding: a few local clerics were offended by an intervention by the RSS’s Indresh Kumar, and his interpretation of Islam.
Qasmi says the mission is to bridge the gap between the Centre and Kashmir. “The Congress is against the RSS for they want Muslims to stay away from the Hindu majority so that it wins elections. What does the RSS say? One creator and his creation,” he said, seeking to draw a parallel with Islam.
He said Muslims need to forget the Gujarat riots and note there were no riots after 2002. “There is still some distance and that is why you hear these communal outbursts by a few BJP leaders here and there. When Giriraj Kishore made that statement, Modiji said that he should not have said so. He made Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti apologise for her remarks,’’ he said.
With his organisation having got close to the RSS and the BJP, he said, “you can now see madrasa students singing patriotic songs, Muslim neighbourhoods hosting the Tricolour… It is because of our presence in the BJP that the government gave a clean chit to madrasas in Bengal and Bihar, saying they are nationalist madrasas.”
Qasmi, involved in export of Kashmiri shawls and carpets, has worked with artisans here for a long time. Now, “we are talking with associations of transporters, houseboat owners and artisans apart from the local clergy. I think many people are ready to support the BJP. They are not openly doing so because of fear, and that fear is fast going away.”
It was once unthinkable, he said, that a bearded and skullcap-wearing maulana would enter the BJP office. “Now we get a lot of respect. We even offer namaz inside the BJP office,’’ he said. “We have come to terms with being a minority in India. Our Prophet has taught us how to live as both victors and vanquished.”
The Muslim Rashtriya Manch has more than 4,500 workers in Kashmir valley, said MRM national coordinator Girish Juyal, an RSS veteran of 37 years. “I was in Kashmir in 1989, and returned in 2002. Around 800 NGOs are working with us,’’ he said.
Juyal was a pracharak from 1990 to 1999, then karai pramukh for J&K for two years. He then became general secretary of J&K Peace Foundation currently led by Fayaz Bhat, a BJP candidate. Although Juyal talks of similarities between Islam and RSS ideology, he also emphasises Kashmir’s Hindu past. “That land is in a crisis today where you were born – Fulfil that promise today that you made in Geeta,’’ says a blurb in his emails sent out to the media in Srinagar almost every day.
Juyal said their strategy was to provide succour to people here so that they are receptive to the group’s politics. “We initiated major relief and rehab work during the floods. We didn’t talk politics then. For years, we have been focusing on social issues,” he said. He runs an Urdu newspaper, Paigam Madre Watan (message of the motherland), which focuses on Indian Muslims. He tells people that “our job is to take people away from self-centredness. This is what Islam says. This is what the RSS says.”
The MRM-Jamaat’s main cleric in Kashmir is Maulana Abdul Latief Qasmi, a classmate of Suhuib Qasmi at Deoband. “Many other maulanas in the valley support us. There are people who belong to Barelvi and Sufism schools of thought too,’’ he said.