Jamaat-e-Islami: Limiting its Ambitions or Learning from the Past?

30 Apr, 2014    ·   4419

Ayesha Khanyari traces the origin and transitions in the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu & Kashmir, and explains its relevance in today's world

At a recent meeting chaired by the Ameer-e-Jamaat (Chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu & Kashmir) Muhammad Abdullah Wani, “Elections,” he said, “is a non-issue for Jamaat-e-Islami. It will follow its practice of not taking any direct or indirect part in the parliamentary elections’’

Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu & Kashmir is a cadre-based socio-political organisation that came into being in the early 20th century. The main aim of the founding fathers of the Jamaat was to redirect religion to achieve positive socio-structural changes in the society, impart modern scientific education to Kashmir’s nascent middle class and eradicate folk Islam.

The Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu & Kashmir (JIK) has taken a path much different from its counterparts in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Although it continues to work with the same ideological framework as the other two, the trajectory of JIK’s development has been different.

The Jamaat has come a full circle from being a socio-religious organisation; it turned the wheel and embraced the ‘Jihadist agenda’ in the early 1990s. However, by the end of the decade, it called an end to the ‘gun culture’, after most of its leaders became weary of the armed struggle, and went back to its original state of affairs.

Non-participation: A Sensible Move?
For many years after its formation, the JIK used to partake in the electoral process, by contesting both local assembly and parliamentary elections. However, following the disputed 1987 state elections – where the Jamaat-backed Muslim United Front (MUF) secured only 4 seats despite polling 31 per cent of the vote – the scenario changed. Widespread allegations of rigging and misuse of power were made, and the general mood in the state flared. This election created a catalyst that led to growing disillusionment among the youth who in turn formed armed insurgent groups and retaliated against the state. The Jamaat, which stayed clear of violent movements, was also mired into one. Since then, the Jamaat has refrained from being a part of the mainstream political life in Jammu & Kashmir.

The JIK is different from the separatist movement in the valley. Although both the factions boycott elections, the JIK does not go an extra mile to organise and/or be party to election boycott campaigns. The chief of the JIk claims that there are more important issues the Jamaat has to cater to than exhorting people to boycott elections.

In this context, the question that needs answering is if this departure is sensible.
By boycotting elections, the party makes an impression only in religious circles and takes away the people’s rights to representation of their own choice. The JIK enjoys a good public support; its message is strong and appeals to the masses, and it has an efficient working cadre. Therefore, if the Jamaat re-enters the political arena, it will provide a healthy change on the ground.

However, past experiences hold the JIK from trusting the state again. The party believes that even if it does contest, not much will change, and that on the contrary, it might lose the ground that it is trying to regain. Hence, the Jamaat refrains from pooling its energy towards something it believes is sure to end in defeat.

JIK Today: Leadership, Manifesto and the Youth Connect
Intra-party elections in the JIK are democratically held via direct vote of the members. Unlike the general trend visible in Jammu & Kashmir’s mainstream political parties, the JIK doesn’t not indulge in dynastic politics.

In 2012, Mohammad Wani was elected as the new Ameer (Leader) of the JIK. Wani, also a former General Secretary of the Jamaat, is credited with rejuvenating the organizational setup of the JIK; he streamlined the vast network of educational institutions run by the Jamaat that fell into a bad shape during the anti-Jamaat wave in the 1990s.

Today, the leadership of the JIK is relatively moderate after it distanced itself from the radical factions it once catered to. In the past few years, the Jamaat has been seeking to return to its original agendas: strengthening educational institutions, organising seminars and rallies against the spread of social evils and Western cultural influences but simultaneously also cautiously avoiding polemic on the Kashmir issue.

As the Jamaat continues to strengthen the moderate leadership, hardliners, of whom Syed Ali Shah Geelani is most vocal, have long been sidelined .This political about turn by the Jamaat has been criticised, as it has disengaged itself from the ‘Kashmir jihad’ and limited itself to a socio-religious party that aims to achieve the goal of ‘Iqamat-e-Deen’, the promotion of Islam and the Islamic way of life.

Does the Jamaat attract the youth now or has it lost its charm?

Apart from the phase where Jamaat’s youth cadre was seen as the main breeding ground for anti-state Jihadists, today, the agenda of the Jamaat in dealing with the youth has changed. For the Jamaat of today, the conflict in Kashmir has taken a backseat and socio-religious issues have gained prominence.

The Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the student wing of the Jamaat, organises seminars and workshops to make the youth aware of the various dangerous trends visible in the society. Issues of drug addiction and mental depression have reached soaring heights. The suicide rates, which were negligible before the insurgency began, have seen a noticeable uptick in the recent years. However, while debate is appreciated and welcome, it is time the Jamaat takes it forward and acts on the ground. It could encourage the youth to participate and volunteer along with social activists to help bring change at the grassroots level and revive its old charm.