After he was barred from teaching in 1986, the disgruntled Prof Abdul Gani Bhat began lecturing on politics in a series of covert residential meetings which eventually led to the creation of MUF. Twenty-nine years later, the professor tells Bilal Handoo how the front started with bang and ended with whimper
Number 23 has always fascinated me. On March 1, 1963—the day I was appointed as professor of Persian in Poonch Degree College—I saw 23 chairs vacant in Principal’s office in my dream. It took me years to realise that the dream essentially meant my 23 years of teaching service and the historic date of March 23, 1987.
1986 was my last year as professor. For someone who loved to take his students beyond the realms of Persian, the abrupt end was akin to devastation. But then, when nine of us were dismissed by state government headed by Jagmohan in backdrop of Babri Masjid and Jammu events, I realised that we were sacrificed to appease Delhi.
One might ask: Why I figured in that list of sacrificial goats? For that to understand, one has to know how my teachings were taken with a pinch of salt by state. I wasn’t organising protests, raising slogans or involved in other “anti-state” activities. I was only exercising academic freedom, which, I believe, is no sin.
But, yes, the decision didn’t go well with the state employees—especially among Muslims—who read it a big conspiracy against the majority. Already Jagmohan was telling us what to eat and how to eat. So, one fine day, we sat to counter the state highhandedness. Among the likeminded people was the great strategist of Kashmir, Dr Ghulam Qadir Wani.
After deliberations, we decided to float three forums: Muslim Employees Front (MEF), Muslim Students Front (MSF) and Muslim United Front (MUF). MEF was a huge change, interpreted as “communalisation of services” by state. But whatever it was for state, it was surely a prelude for us to start something big.
During the same time, Moulana Abbas Ansari, Qazi Nissar and others were talking about atrocities faced by Kashmiris. Since I was a known fiery debater, somehow these men showed interest in me. Later I came to know how Ghulam Rasool Bacha, heading MEF then, had once met Abbas Ansari’s secretary, Hakim Ghulam Rasool, at Amira Kadal bridge and proposed my name for inclusion of the talks.
Then, one day, I received a letter from Ansari through Hakim, inviting me to a meeting in Srinagar. I headed for it. It was a summer time of 1986. The meeting was taking place at Chattabal in Ansari’s follower’s house. I could see Jama’at-i-Islami, Jamiait Ahalhadees, Ummati Islami, Islamic Study Circle and members of other parties participating in it.
For the first time, I met Qazi Nissar there. When I was finally invited to talk, I told them that we should first have political umbrella in the form of the front. Besides, I told them, we should have an agenda and collective leadership.
Mind you, it was the first organised effort to seek political solution of Kashmir issue. Since we lacked a proper address then, therefore, I famously stated, “Har ghar hamara daftar hai.” (Every home is our office).
Next, we met at Khanyar, inside the house of Dr Ghulam Qadir Wani’s relative. Our second gathering had good attendance. Even Jama’at chief GM Bhat and other big shots were there. As I proposed the name Muslim Muthida Mahaz for our political front, Yousuf Shah, now Syed Salahuddin, cried in excitement: “Khudaye! Issha gaye Azaad!” (God! We have been liberated!). They had not been able to suggest a name for many days.
I stopped him saying, “Control, not yet!”
Later me, Dr Wani and Qazi Nissar formed a committee for drafting the Mahaz constitution. Till then, Jama’at wasn’t a party of the front.
Later to rope in Jama’at, Dr Qadir Wani invited me in a Jama’at congregation at his native village, Arin Bandipora. On his call, I announced that Jama’at was the part of MUF. Even Jama’at chief GM Bhat present there wasn’t aware about the development. We later persuaded him saying that MUF was only taking Jama’at’s ideology forward. This cleared decks for the Batingo date, a day after.
In Batingo Sopore, on July 13, 1986, we met next at my home to formally welcome Jama’at into MUF. That was the historic development because Jama’at was only religo-political party having pan-Kashmir presence then. We needed the party and its support base for making MUF a success. And shortly, Jama’at inclusion altered my earlier assertion—“har ghar hamara daftar hai”. Now, we had a permanent address at Maisuma.
We shortly met Press to formally announce MUF. To avoid state’s backlash, we exercised caution in our speeches. In between, Dr Farooq left for Hajj. Days later, one MUF member, Siraj ud Din, whispered in my ears: “Farooq will become J&K chief minister on his return.” That man proved right. No sooner Farooq returned, he was reinstalled as J&K CM. That man for certain assured source of his always proved right. Let me reveal it a bit later how his next whisper punctured our poll claims.
By December 1986, the date for election was announced. The poll battle was set on March 23, 1987. To create a roadmap, MUF met at Baramulla. Two polar opinions emerged in the meeting: one in favour of elections and other against it. Jama’at was clear. It wanted to contest the polls. Its representatives clearly announced: “If any of you want to boycott the polls, then do it. But we are going ahead.”
Then, I and Dr Wani decided that we should participate in polls strategically. So we announced, “Our motive behind contesting polls is to educate and involve people.” With that, MUF was all good to go on the poll journey.
I was eyeing 33 seats, if the poll process would be a fair exercise. In case of rigging, I thought, we would win three seats. And if somehow, the entire process takes middle route, then we would grab at least 11 seats.
It was then, Siraj ud Din, the one who whispered Farooq’s power resurrection to my ears, whispered again: “Rest assure, we are only getting four seats.” I knew, he was speaking as per the script. But then I thought, the man can’t be right every time. Even then, I couldn’t stop myself recalling his words on the day when the results indeed reduced MUF to four seats!
But well before the results, we were busy making MUF a grand success. During one of those days, I met Dr Qadir Wani to discuss a very significant plan. The plan was to dress MUF candidates in shroud to parade them in public for creating sympathy wave. After he understood the plan, we shortly left to meet Jama’at chief, GM Bhat to discuss the plan.
“But what are we going to achieve by resorting to such tactics?” the Ameer Jama’at asked. I replied that shroud is the symbol of sacrifice besides a statement that we are ready to sacrifice our lives for freedom’s sake. When the chief was convinced, he ordered shroud for MUF candidates. The original idea was to take these kafanposh to Dargah, but later we decided to unveil them before public inside crowded Iqbal Park.
Another interesting factor was the manner with which we were campaigning. We would tell people that, remember, March 23, 1940, was the day when the struggle for Pakistan’s creation began. “It was on this day the freedom lovers rallied behind Muhammad Ali Jinnah who vowed in Muslim League convention (Lahore) to struggle strenuously for the creation of Pakistan,” the people couldn’t stop themselves from sloganeering after hearing this. We would also tell them to divorce the old parties—NC and Congress—“as they only piled up Kashmir’s miseries”. And sometimes, we would tell them: Remember, if you won’t vote for us, we will let loose djinns in our command on you inside polling booth. All this was done in good faith: to make MUF success.
But the moment, Farooq Abdullah—doomed to lose—ran post-haste to Delhi, I knew scope for the fair elections had gone. He came back only to unleash hell. We despite winning the elections were declared losers and subsequently jailed.
On January 1, 1988, when I walked out of prison, I sensed that something was about to happen in valley. It didn’t take me much time to realise what it was.
While travelling in a local bus, one day, I saw the former MUF supporters already seated at back. They patted my shoulder and cued me to follow them. I was taken to some place where they showed me guns. “Now, guns will deal with the state,” I heard one of them thundering. Later, I could only walk out as an uneasy man, cursing both Farooq Abdullah and Delhi for pushing Kashmiri youth to extreme path.
Then, one fine day, when I was returning from Bhaderwah with Jama’at chief GM Bhat after attending a religious congregation there, the news came: MUF has been disintegrated. I could only rage up over the realisation how our beloved movement was buried under the debris of an unimaginative politics. Later I lost my hearing power and I could only express gratitude to God for saving me from lies!
However, all these years, Number 23 continued fascinating me. But then I could never forget what this date did to Kashmir on March 23, 1987.