With the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and massive crackdown on its leadership having given the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) an issue that could help it make people rally behind it, the party, apparently in an attempt to cash in on the public anger against the ban, held its first political rally in south Kashmir on Wednesday.
Hundreds of PDP activists, led by party president and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, took to the streets in south Kashmir’s Anantnag town, demanding revocation of the ban on Jamaat.
Nearly a thousand people participated in Wednesday’s protest march, according to estimates by sources in the police, making it one of the biggest mainstream political assemblies in south Kashmir since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in July 2016, which triggered massive street protests in the Valley, especially in south Kashmir.
South Kashmir subsequently turned into a militant stronghold, with hundreds of local youths joining the militant ranks. The region has hardly seen any mainstream political activity in the last nearly three years.
Addressing supporters, Mufti said, “Jamaat-e-Islami has been banned. Our imams (clerics) are being arrested — 70- and 80-year-old people have been put behind the bars. The offices of Jamaat-e-Islami have been sealed. Similarly, people of Ahli Hadith (a religious group) thought are being arrested.”
Calling it “hooliganism”, she said the PDP is protesting against this. “We are protesting at the district level but we will take these (protests) to every sphere,” Mufti said. “We want the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami lifted, and the 70- and 80-year-olds released. People should be told what their (Jamaat-e-Islami leadership’s) fault is, what the charges are against them. What is the evidence against people who have been arrested?”
Mufti maintained that the BJP wanted the government under her to act against Jamaat-e-Islami and other religious scholars when the two parties ran the alliance government in Jammu and Kashmir. “We kept them (BJP) in control,” she said, “but now they are acting…to crush everything (on their way).”
While the National Conference and other mainstream political parties have condemned the ban on Jamaat, terming it a move against the ideals of democracy, the PDP has moved a step further and taken to the streets.
With the Jamaat leadership behind the bars and its activists staying away from streets fearing arrest, the PDP is seen as having started its protests as an attempt to get back the trust of Jamaat sympathisers, who are believed to have voted for the party in the past but had drifted away in recent years.