Amit Shah’s ‘apolitical’ Kashmir visit comes amidst high turnout in Lok Sabha polls, Jamaat’s peace overtures

JeI will consider rejoining electoral politics if the 2019 ban against it is revoked, says leader, describing youth participation in polls as a ‘good omen’

Updated - May 16, 2024 10:20 pm IST

Published - May 16, 2024 06:10 pm IST - SRINAGAR

Security personnel patrol an area ahead of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, in Samba on May 16, 2024.

Security personnel patrol an area ahead of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, in Samba on May 16, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

The BJP has downplayed the Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s two-day visit to the Kashmir valley, starting Thursday, as “apolitical”, even though it comes in the midst of the ongoing Lok Sabha election and is triggering jitters among the regional parties, the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The unscheduled visit also comes against the backdrop of recent peace overtures by the banned socio-religious group Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI).

“The Home Minister’s visit is apolitical. He will chair a meeting to review the arrangements for the Amarnath Yatra and meet local delegations,” BJP leader and Kashmir in-charge Sunil Sharma said, reiterating that Assembly elections in J&K “will be held soon, and Statehood will also be restored”.

The Home Minister arrived in Srinagar on Thursday evening and will review security arrangements here. He also met a delegation, which included members of the Pahari community. “We thanked the Home Minister for delivering justice to Paharis,” one member said, after the meeting. Mr. Shah’s visit comes days after the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency went to the polls, recording a healthy voter turnout of 38% for the first time since 1999.

JeI turns to democracy

Mr. Shah’s unscheduled visit was preceded by a statement from the JeI, expressing its willingness to join the electoral process. In multiple interviews to local news outlets over the past two days, Ghulam Qadir Wani, a JeI leader from Pulwama’s Gussu, said, “The JeI will consider participating in elections if the ban is revoked. If the situation allows, we will restore the old practice of joining electoral politics. I did cast a vote recently. It is a democratic way and there is no other way.”

He described the participation of the youth in the Srinagar Lok Sabha poll as “a good omen”.

“It’s encouraging that youth have started taking interest in local issues. It will instil a sense of community in them. Even the Quran and Islam put thrust on a just society, where there is no bloodshed and no corruption. Youth’s participation is a good omen and it needs to be cashed in on. It will bode well for the future of Kashmir,” said Mr. Wani, who heads a panel of the banned JeI.

Sources said that Mr. Wani has visited Delhi several times over the past three years and met “influential leaders”, as part of the spadework towards ending the ban on the group.  

‘Never called for boycott’

In 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs had declared the JeI as “an unlawful association” under Section 3 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Since then, the JeI has desisted from issuing any statement or participating in any political activity. Most of its assets, including schools and offices, were sealed after the ban.

“There has been a confusion among people as well as the government. Boycott calls were wrongly attributed to the JeI after many groups came into being in Kashmir. However, we never issued a boycott call. We have faith in democracy and see it as a process to resolve issues. [The JeI’s] constitution makes it clear that it will not support any underground movement,” Mr. Wani said. 

Responding to the JeI statement, BJP leader Mr. Sharma said, “In the Modi government, everyone has to believe in only mainstream politics and no right or left stream is allowed. There is no other way... Every organisation has a right to contest elections under the ambit of the Indian Constitution and law. But no organisation which is anti-India or unlawful or involved in anti-national activity will be allowed or tolerated.”

Sudden visit

NC leader Omar Abdullah welcomed the JeI decision to join the electoral process. “It’s good. Let the Jamaat join the fray. I appeal to the Home Minister to lift the ban so that they can field their own candidates in the upcoming Assembly polls. Instead of working for others, let JeI test their luck in elections,” Mr. Abdullah said.

However, he expressed surprise over Mr. Shah’s Kashmir visit, connecting it to the likely victory of the NC candidate in Srinagar.  “Don’t you find it strange that the BJP has fielded no candidate in Kashmir and this visit comes? This could be an outcome of our candidate Aga Syed Ruhullah Medhi winning the Srinagar seat. There will be an attempt to dent our party. But I am hopeful both the seats of Baramulla and Anantnag will be won by us,” Mr. Abdullah said.

A senior PDP leader told The Hindu that the sudden visit of Mr. Shah reflected the fact that “the party has lost the plot in the Kashmir valley”. The leader said, “It has not fielded any candidate. Why a visit amid the ongoing poll process? It seems the rise of regional voices non-aligned with the BJP has the saffron party jittery.”

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