Ban Intolerance

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by Tasavur Mushtaq

The sealed central office of Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu & Kashmir

Understanding different perspectives is a beautiful human skill. It allows for exploring multiple possibilities to deal with emerging eventualities. The richness of using this skill is to accommodate the contradictions convincingly and put across your opinion confidently. The bringing together of differences may actually help in discovering the blind spots or new things to consider. This holds good for individuals as well as societal setup. But the art of managing the differences become vital when it comes to the democratic world because the essence of democracy is diversity, and disagreement is a tool of social development.

The spirit of democratic ideals and principles would ensure the qualities of tolerance and acceptance. Any intervention to override the representative character of people is an assault on the idea of democracy.

Democracy’s worth lies in pluralism and free exchange of ideas. The time is the testimony to the fact that repressive tactics have been counter-productive. Always!

In a suffocating scenario where everything is suffused with muscular might, nothing progressive in terms of sustainability could be achieved, ever. The recent ban on Jamaat-e-Islami in Jammu & Kashmir is a stark example. Seemingly, it is a step alienating a larger section of society. The BJP government banned it for five years under anti-terror law on grounds that it was “in close touch” with militant outfits and is expected to “escalate secessionist movement” in the state.

A more than 70-year-old cadre-based socio-political and religious organization, Jamaat has a substantial base across the state. The aim of its founding fathers, Peer Sa’ad-ud-din Tarabali, Maulana Ghulam Ahmad Ahrar, and Qari Saif-ud-din was to take the faith route to achieve positive socio-structural changes in the society and help to impart the modern education in Kashmir.

With changing times and circumstances, Jamaat became a powerful voice and had faced stiff resistance as well. From managing the affairs as the socio-religious organization, it had its share in militancy, which they later ended when Ghulam Muhammad Bhat washed his hands off it in 1998. It was going against the tide.

This ban is neither the first nor expected to be the last. It has tasted the ban twice since Indira-Abdullah accord in 1975.

In the battle of ideas and ideologies, the key lies in opposing the ideological opponent in their own political space. Quashing the freedom to have a difference of opinion or a distinct method of operation doesn’t destroy the underlying sentiment. It only further alienates that section of society.

Integration requires involvement. Going down the annals of history, Jamaat was not averse to working within India’s constitutional framework. Part and parcel of the existing system, this organization has been contesting polls since the post-1953 era.

Banned for being “threat” to the peace, how lawful it was to allow them to contest Panchayat elections in 1969, Lok Sabha elections in 1971, state elections of 1972, 1977 and 1983. It actually was the key force behind the Muslim United Front (MUF).

This organization is accused of playing proxy to PDP and tactically supporting them in elections, particularly in south Kashmir. Incidentally, the PDP was in a tight embrace with BJP between March 2014 and June 2018.

Now, what exactly banning Jamaat means?

Sections in Kashmir see the ban differently. In 1975, when Sheikh Abdullah banned Jamaat, RSS was also banned. Now it is RSS banning Jamaat? The ban is seen as one religion attempting an intervention in another taking the political route for political reasons.

The ban has put almost the entire political class in Kashmir on the same page. The strong advocates against the ban are two former chief ministers – Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. Sajjad Lone, Yousuf Tarigami and even Congress are not supportive of it. They all see it as compromising the process of reconciliation.

So the question is – who is right? Is Kashmir political class supporting something that Delhi sees as “threat to peace”? This may require a larger debate for the sake of democracy.

Politics and policies are debatable but the right to dissent is the essence of democracy. Ban will yield nothing other than glamorizing dissent, as Omar put it. Shrink the space for dialogue and rapprochement and you lose a proportionate segment of the population, which potentially has a tendency to strengthen the democracy as an idea. The fear of victimization would breed more radicalization and compel them to work underground.

An unperturbed Delhi is maintaining its muscular line, even though its dividends are invisible. Mainstream parties in Kashmir have been struggling with weak legitimacy for years now. Arbitrary actions will make democracy more intolerant and feeble. Clogged channels are harmful. Don’t dodge the dialogue and diplomacy.

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