From his public endorsement of separatist leaders in Kashmir valley to his unflinching admiration for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, an Islamabad-based youth who is now acting as deputy of BJP’s Youth Wing in J&K has undergone a complete political transformation in the last decade, Shams Irfan reports.
It seems, the popularity of Gujrat chief minister Narendra Modi is not limited to social media chat-rooms and white collar corporate seminars only. There are a few people in the real world who are fascinated by his idea of an “ideal state”.
While a series of cases related to the 2002 Gujarat program are still being fought in the courts in Delhi, Ahmadabad and Mumbai and Modi is still not out of the shadows, it does not stop people from idolizing him. And, interestingly, Kashmir is no exception.
Ashiq Hussain Dar, 29, from Mominabad, Islamabad, who is currently serving BJP as its State Vice-President, Youth Wing Kashmir, admires Modi for his unambiguous political stance and his knack for development. Ashiq’s journey in politics is as interesting as his present political ideology. He started his political career in 2005 by joining Muslim Conference, a separatist organization headed by Ghulam Nabi Sumjhi, who is also an executive member of Syed Ali Shah Geelani led Hurriyat Conference.
In 2002, after completing his studies, Ashiq started a footwear showroom (Salfia Shoe Corner) in Islamabad’s busy Janglaat Mandi market. That was the time when government-backed militant renegade group Ikhwan was active in Islamabad. “They (Ikhwanis) had absolute authority. They would come to my shop and take whatever they liked. On many occasions they would empty my daily earnings and leave,” Ashiq recalls.
Wearing a neatly ironed black waistcoat, Ashiq recalls the helplessness he felt in those days. He wanted to do something about it but he had no power or resource. “The reason I joined Muslim Conference was to fight such daylight extortions,” says Ashiq.
After a brief stint as Muslim Conference’s district level cadre, Ashiq left the organization and joined Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) as District President Rural in 2006. “There was no way I could have helped youth regain their lost confidence in politics by staying away from it myself. So I joined SP,” Ashiq says.
The decision to join SP, an Uttar Pradesh-based political party which has almost no base in Kashmir, was a well thought out strategy by Ashiq. “I could not have represented youth by becoming part of any Kashmir based political party,” said Ashiq.
For him, youth hold the key to peace in Kashmir. He was excited the way SP strongman Yadav talked about getting rid of bad elements in UP politics. Ashiq saw a ray of hope in Yadav’s speeches. But his excitement was short-lived. He soon realized that UP and Kashmir are two different places with entirely different histories and politics. “For SP, Kashmiri youth was not a priority,” Ashiq felt.
The political scene in Kashmir was changing fast while Ashiq was experimenting with ideologies. At one point of time, Ashiq confessed that he too was excited to see young Omar Abdullah take reigns of Kashmir as its chief minister. But his excitement didn’t last long. “Since Omar [Abdullah] took over, Kashmir witnessed widespread bloodshed. It was again youth who suffered the most,” Ashiq says.
Towards the end of 2006, Ashiq finally found his political idol in Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and without losing any time, he joined BJP. He finally had a larger platform at his disposal and a national level party to back his plans. He moved from place to place to get himself acquainted with the party functioning. “I travelled a lot in all these years. I have attended a number of party meetings where I met almost all top level party leaders,” Ashiq says proudly.
Ask him whom he admires among the BJP leaders he met and he wastes no time in replying, “Modi ji ko dil se pasand karta hun. Woh dynamic leader hai” (I admire [Narendra] Modi. He is a dynamic leader). Ashiq who met Modi briefly during a party function at Mumbai gets irritated when one speaks about Godhra riots and his favourite leader in the same breath. “If Modi ji would have been involved in [Godhra] riots, as claimed by people, then he would not have been elected thrice as chief minister,” Ashiq says in a matter of fact manner. “Even Gujrati Muslims vote for Modi.”
Trying to set records straight once and for all, Ashiq says that being a youngster at the time of Godhra riots, he too believed whatever he was fed by people around him. “If county has to develop, then we need leaders like Modi,” he answers quickly while skipping the Godhra riots.
Over the years Ashiq has tried hard to adopt himself to BJP’s core Hindutva ideology. However he brushes aside questions on construction of Ram Temple at Ayodha, which incidentally BJP considers its trump card in next elections. “Babri Masjid demolition was a big issue and I was just a kid then. It is not wise to discuss Babri Masjid issue now,” Ashiq said.
Despite his young age, Ashiq claims to have understood the nuances of politics at both regional and national level. From an enthusiastic youngster, who used to speak his heart out in public meets and admired separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, Ashiq now weights his words cautiously before uttering them.
In 2008, BJP’s former State President Ashok Khajuria publicly announced an economic blockade of Kashmir valley after Muslims protested against the transfer of a piece of forest land to a Hindu shrine in Pahalgam. It was for the first time that Ashiq’s loyalty towards his party was put to real test. “I was against the economic blockade,” he clarifies. “But it is their [Hindu’s] religious issue. Let them take that land, we have no issue,” he adds.
“They have a right to get what they deserve. Kashmir is the land of Sufi’s,” he adds after a brief pause.
He justifies his decision to join BJP because of its “progressive thinking and seriousness to solve Kashmir issue.” Ashiq argues that only former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was serious to solve Kashmir issue, “Others just use K-issue for political gains,” he says.
Like every politician, Ashiq too has a solution for Kashmir. “Let youth progress and everything will be alright. Azadi [freedom] is not the solution. Kashmiris must get involved in mainstream,” opines Ashiq.
In the last two decades, BJP’s anti-Muslim in general and anti-Kashmiri political stance in particular has made it one of the most despised political party in Kashmir. If not anything else, his association with BJP has taught him the art of facing criticism boldly. Ashiq hardly loses his cool. He would listen, then nod his head several times, and then finally disagree and try hard to convince. “BJP is not an anti-Muslim or a communal party as projected by the media,” Ashiq argues. “BJP has nationalistic thinking which is not at all anti-Islamic.”
“The reason for all our [Kashmir’s] miseries are unemployment. You won’t find anybody throwing stones once unemployment is tackled,” claims Ashiq.
Ashiq contested 2008 state assembly election on a BJP ticket from Islamabad constituency. Out of 31,499 votes polled, he managed to bag just 303 votes.
In 2011, Ashiq was part of Bhartia Janata Yuva Morcha’s Rashtriya Ekta Yatra, which was flagged off from Kolkata and was to end in Kashmir with a flag hosting ceremony at historic Lal Chowk in Srinagar on January 26. But Ashiq and his party men were detained at their respective offices. “Kashmiri youth have lost faith in Omar-led ruling government,” he rues.
Ashiq loves to talk about his favourite politician Modi, whom he admires for his political correctness. He tries to convince people that Modi is a safe bet for Kashmiris as PM of India, “Modi is as concerned about Kashmiri youth as Vajpayee was during his tenure as PM,” Ashiq argues. “We [Kashmiri] need development, new industries, end of unemployment, investment in private sector from multinational companies and lot more. And only he [Modi] can ensure all this,” he says.