Had Jama’at-e-Islami not offered its resource base and the vast organizational skeleton, MUF might not had been as important as it eventually proved, reveals Syed Asma
Jama’at-e-Islami’s (JeI) entry into Muslim United Front (MUF) was dramatic. Persian professor Abdul Gani Bhat whom Jagomhan dismissed in February 1986 actually made the announcement of the party joining the alliance. Interestingly, it was even to Ameer-e-Jama’at, who also heard him making the announcement in Arin village where the party was holding in an Ijtema (meeting).
To have Jama’at-e-Islami in MUF, was an important strategic step, accepts Prof Bhat sitting in his Sardar House at Wazirbagh. It was the only experienced party that shared MUF’s ideology, had courage to support it and had experience in politics.
“Had Jama’at not agreed to be part of MUF, it would have failed much before its takeoff,” said Farooq (name changed), a Srinagar bases political analyst who has been active during 1987 elections. “Apart from pan-Kashmir cadre base, Jama’at was the most resourceful party that MUF could have banked on.”
After it’s formal entry, Jama’at’s Batamaloo and Maisuma office became MUF’s new addresses. It was the only constituent in MUF which owned an official vehicle.
A day after Prof Bhat announced Jama’at’s entry in MUF, its Ameer was attending the alliance meeting on July 13. “G M Bhat and I reached together for Botengo meeting,” recalls Prof Bhat. To everybody’s surprise he was asked to preside over the meet. Maulana Abbas Ansari, recently appointed convenor, and Qazi Nisar, coordinator MUF, were also present in the meeting. Under G M Bhat’s leadership MUF’s constitution – already prepared by Prof Bhat and Dr Ghulam Qadir Wani – was discussed. “I remember heading all MUF meeting,” says G M Bhat, whom his party recalled from retirement to head it again.
“Bhat was deliberately made to feel special, and the leader of MUF, as only Jama’at had experience to fight elections,” feels Farooq.
Jama’at is a cadre based socio-religious-political party that exists in Kashmir since 1946. But its formal entry into politics came in 1969 with local bodies election.
“In a way, Jama’at introduced the democratic electoral process in Kashmir,” says Ali (name changed) a senior Jama’at member from south Kashmir. “Otherwise Sheikh Abdullah used to sweep elections virtually unopposed. Jama’at’s entry into elections encouraged others to participate.”
However, after the 1987 elections, Jama’at remained apolitical, citing loss of faith in the democratic setup.
The first official meeting of MUF took place in Botengo, Sopore. It acquired its name there.
The first discussion that took place, remembers Prof Bhat, was about the nomenclature. Will MUF’s constitution mention the state of J&K or simply J&K, was the point of discussion. “State of J&K introduced it as one of the states of India while as J&K portrayed it as an independent entity,” explains G M Bhat.
All but Dr Ghulam Qadir Wani agreed to use J&K. “Later Dr Wani too got convinced,” recalls G M Bhat. “We did not want to alienate ourselves, so State of Jammu and Kashmir was chosen.”
Four hours later MUF was formally born. It had a constitution, structure, and support of all the parties including Jama’at.
Exactly 29 years later, G M Bhat, sitting in Jama’at’s Batmaloo office, terms the decision to join MUF as a “difficult one”. Known for his high political ambitions, Bhat says he wanted to keep Jama’at-e-Islami aloof from MUF. Courtesy – ambiguous political nature of MUF.
Some MUF constituents wanted to remain apolitical, something opposed by G M Bhat. “To steer clear of any confusion, I proposed to support MUF from outside, without making Jama’at one of its constituent members,” says G M Bhat.
This was opposed by other constituents who wanted Jama’at to lead from the front. “They offered to help Jama’at during elections. But it would have created confusion only,” says G M Bhat.
But G M Bhat had a point, what if you fail to support Jama’at for any reason; it will only create bitterness among MUF members. Finally, all MUF constituents agreed to participate in elections.
“I believe MUF had already made up its mind to fight elections,” says Farooq. “Or it was done to rope in Jama’at’s into MUF.”
Many believe, MUF’s creators Prof Bhat and Dr Wani, had already made up their mind to fight elections along with Jama’at. “They (Prof Bhat and Dr Wani) knew what they were doing. It was perhaps pre-decided to launch Kashmir’s first political forum, but not everything was shared with everybody by the duo,” feels Farooq.
Except for Qazi Nisar’s Umaat-e-Islami, everybody agreed to fight the 1987 elections. Qazi Nisar was in jail that time, so MUF had to wait for his consent. A few days later when Qazi Nisar was released, MUF sent two men to get his consent, but they came back disappointed saying, ‘Qazi Sahab is a changed man. He ignored us’.
Disappointed, G M Bhat (Ameer-e-Jama’at), Prof Ghulam Rasool Bacha and Prof Ashraf Saraf decided to visit Qazi personally. “Qazi Sahab was addressing a huge gathering at Islamabad when we reached there,” recalls G M Bhat.
When Qazi Nisar saw G M Bhat and others approaching the stage, he cut short his speech. “I too could sense a change in Qazi’s behaviour,” recalls G M Bhat.
Without losing heart, G M Bhat got hold of the microphone and welcomed Qazi on his release from jail. “I then invited him along with his followers to Srinagar’s Iqbal Park for a big rally MUF had planned,” recalls G M Bhat.
At Iqbal Park, Qazi Nisar sat comfortably on stage while MUF announced its 40 candidates (32 from Jama’at), who made their first public appearance wearing Kafans (funeral shrouds).
To introduce candidates wearing shrouds was Prof Bhat’s idea. “We wanted to convey that MUF men are ready to sacrifice their lives for the change,” says Prof Bhat. “But I had to explain it to Bhat Sahab because he had to foot the bill.”
For a while, everything was going smooth for MUF, huge public support, big rallies across Kashmir, and outpour of public sentiments on the streets, raised hopes of a comfortable victory. But it proved short-lived.
In the meantime, G M Bhat left for Saudi Arabia for Umrah, and the reins of Jama’at in his absence were handed over to Syed Ali Geelani, MUF’s Sopore candidate. “In my absence, MUF decided to include Abdul Gani Lone (People’s Conference) in the party, which was wrong,” says G M Bhat. “He was a communist, how could Jama’at have let him in!”
Interestingly, Lone’s inclusion in the party was decided on the day MUF convenor Maulana Abbas Ansari’s mother passed away. “Instead of attending her Nimaz-e-Jinaza (Funeral prayers) MUF members met and included Lone in the party,” says G M Bhat.
Once back, G M Bhat cancelled all decisions taken in that meeting, including Lone’s entry into MUF. “This was unacceptable to me,” says G M Bhat.
When results came, Lone’s exclusion from MUF proved costly, as his People’s Conference, bagged almost 1 lakh votes. “Had Lone been part of MUF, they would have won entire north Kashmir,” believes Farooq.
However, days before elections, G M Bhat, on MUF constituent’s insistence, tried to negotiate a seat-sharing deal with Lone. “He asked for important seats like Sopore and Kupwara that MUF was not ready to leave,” recalls G M Bhat.
Finally, MUF was routed in the elections, as it managed to win just four seats: three in the south and one in the north. Two were bagged by Jama’at men.
“Jama’at’s morally upright approach never allowed them to win the popular vote,” feels Farooq.
The elections result, and the alleged rigging, disappointed MUF’s rank and file, but Prof Bhat. “Dr Wani and I were never concerned about winning or losing. Our motive was to educate and engage youth. That I guess we did,” says Prof Bhat. “We never wanted to form a government!”