Prayers Without The Preacher

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The fifteen century mosque, a huge wooden structure, has had troubled past. For most of the Sikh era it was locked. It continued for most of the initial decades of the Dogra monarchy but towards the end of the nineteenth century it was opened for Friday prayers only. It did close occasionally during the periods of crisis and turmoil before and after the partition as well. But off late its closure on Friday’s is becoming a routine.

For the last six centuries, the Jamia survived as a strong political platform that would have occasional interventions in uplifting the educational standards of the people. This was the main reason why Sheikh Abdullah created a parallel institution from the Hazratbal shrine that he reconstructed. Jamia is the traditional seat of influence of Srinagar’s Mirwaiz family that is currently led by moderate separatist Mirwaiz Umer Farooq. Ban on prayers has restricted the movement of the young cleric who was recently conferred a doctorate by the University of Kashmir.

The continued ban gradually emerged into a major issue. Initially it was the clergy that fought against it by issuing statements and threatening action. They managed to get a concession from Syed Ali Geelani who excluded Fridays from the calendar of his marches and protests. By then people had started linking the ‘siege’ of the mosque with the successful conduct of Amarnath yatra and Mirwaiz went public with this argument.

Later, the politicians joined the crusade for getting the prayers resumed. Former chief minister Mufti Sayeed issued a hard hitting statement suggesting that a government that has lost “all the credibility and had nothing more to lose” was using state power to deny the people their fundamental right of prayers without caring for the sentiments involved. He accused the government of “radicalizing” a society and creating an “artificial sense of normalcy (being) created at the point of gun.”

Finally, the government decided. They kept Mirwaiz under house arrest and lifted the ban on people to come for prayers! Nobody knows what will happen on Eid when Geelani wants people to have prayers at Hazratbal.

Pinching Omar!
After the 2008 agitation devoured his government, Ghulam Nabi Azad shifted his base back to Delhi. But that never meant he forgot Kashmir. He is perhaps one of the few ministers in New Delhi who is well informed about happenings back home.

Azad’s personal baggage is too huge that nobody in the state can match. He has remained a great survivor of the Congress party as he managed to retain his power under everybody. But, yes, J&K has remained a bit of problem for him. He was sent home as PCC chief apparently under punishment. He triggered a miracle by making Congress a party to reckon with in 2002 polls. This eventually led him to win an election from Bhaderwah where he had lost Panchayat election in 1977.

In PDP-Congress coalition he had a very problematic relationship with Muftis especially after he replaced Mufti Sayeed. Though at the last moment, he tried to rope in NC to make his government survive, it did not materialize because of opposition from the Congress high command. Post-2008 polls, he was left sulking as Omar Abdullah took over. And that changed the equation.

In his first visit after Omar’s take over, Azad spoke to a series of gathering in Jammu region. Almost everywhere he attacked the government and accused it of being incompetent. At the same time, he would pull the strings that would embarrass the government while taking decisions. Even on issues of transfers, there would be problems and Azad’s men in cabinet would block initiatives.

This irked Omar and he complained to Ms Sonia Gnadhi. This led to an informal ban on Azad to visit and he remained tadi paar for a long time. It led to an informal settlement between the two.
Now Azad is again in J&K. Recently, he publicly tracked faults in the functioning of the government. He said around 1550 development works and schemes were started by the government during his tenure but many of these works were still incomplete.

The Jammu Lake
Jammu wants everything that Kashmir has. It goes to the spirit of Jammu that it has literally created a mini-Kashmir within the temple city that was once dubbed a ‘town of monkeys and stones’. Now, Pandits live there, so do the power elite and business class.

So if Srinagar has Dal lake why can’t Jammu have one. Yes, the government is investing Rs 110 crore to create an artificial lake that will be on the banks of Tawi and would be fed by it. JVR Infrastructures Pvt Ltd has bagged the Rs 70 crore contract for creating the pond and raising the bund and the barrage would be ready with 24 months. Once this is ready, the other activities like beatification of it will start. Two parks of 150 kanal area and another one having nearly 27 kanal are being created.

State planners say the ‘lake’ will be the epicenter of a series of activities and infrastructure that will be set up around it. It includes an amusement park on 11000 kanals besides a multi-story residential colony that would surround the lake. Besides, 700 cusecs of the lake water would be diverted to Ranbir Canal that would help hundreds of farmers.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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