To the Mirwaiz | Time for Umar Farooq to rediscover himself

Muttahida Majlise Ulema, a Kashmir based body of religious scholars and leaders, convened an “extra ordinary” meeting where Mirwaiz Umar spoke on some burning issues facing our society. Top on the list was the fast spreading  drug abuse. News and statistics, the threat is palpably present in our society. We have woken up to it very late. But the point is this: drug addiction is a symptom of a larger problem. The big picture is that we are, as a collective, from last 30 years, deeply drugged. We have destroyed our institutions, from politics to economy to education to family. Mirwaiz has a bigger task at hand, and I strike this conversation with him with the hope that he takes a lead in widening discussions on this.  

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is uniquely placed in the political and social landscape of Kashmir. When I say uniquely, it’s not a profusion of praise. Contrarily, it’s to remind Umar Sahab of the responsibilities, and the possibilities, anchored to his position. Beyond praise and censure, there is a world of plain talk. In him many things merge into one, so we take it one by one.

First, Umar Sahab stands in the line of the larger Muslim politics of the sub-continent. It is a tradition that shaped up the politics of the sub-continent, and manifests time and again in different forms. He is connected to a deep reservoir of Muslim thinking, of a great line of socio-political leadership of the Muslims in the sub-continent, from Sir Syed to Jinnah. It means he shouldn’t be carried away by ordinary ways of thinking and action.    

Second, he heads a party, Awami Action Committee, that was delivered from the womb of Kashmir crisis many decades back. So he carries the burden of legacy. This phase of politics went through many highs and lows, and witnessed a consistent destruction of Kashmir’s internal politics at the hands of New Delhi. Remember, it was late Congress – secular, liberal, democratic, forward looking, and what not! The later day division of Kashmir’s politics into Resistance and Mainstream, that weekend us in every sense, was established in that period. This phase also witnessed a division of Kashmir’s Muslim society into ‘subhuman’ categories – Sher and Bakra. The stories our elders tell  us about that infighting confirm that it was all about disgrace and loss of civility. Thank God the gap was closed, and credit must be given to those who initiated a process of reconciliation. In his own solitude the Mirwaiz can reflect on this phase, and then compare it with the current destruction of Kashmir’s politics. It was never so stark as it is now. Umar Sahab needs a cutting clarity on this, before he summons up courage to make some radical departures.

Third, he is the chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M), a conglomerate that represents the civil face of the Freedom politics in Kashmir. So he moves along with the burden. After the tragic assassination of late Molvi Farooq Sahab, a young boy was, literally, tossed up into a leadership role. We all know what we all know, and yet we don’t speak up. This phase of Kashmir’s politics was, and is, riddled with fatal contradictions. Umar Sahab was among the first victims of the violent contradictions. Probably it’s time we focus on that, and initiate a process of healing. Forgiveness, not fear, is what can make us meet this challenge. This phase also witnessed a deadly contest on who should finally call the shots. Underground armed groups or the above ground civil formations. Here we need to make a confession that almost all our civil formations – that later comprised the Hurriyat umbrella – tired to have their own armed wings. That was an unforgiving misdeed, and we all paid for that. It is time for the Mrwaiz to prepare the Kashmir’s Muslim society for an open discussion on this, and make ways for civil formations to take the reins of leadership, and engage in constructive politics.

Fourth, Umar Farooq is  part of the triumvirate called JRL – Joint Resistance Leadership. Post 2016 agitation it tried to pilot the protest politics. Tragically, this phase saw a relapse of Kashmir’s Muslim society into violence. Taking no lessons, and exhibiting no courage, JRL rode on the waves of public hysteria. Stone pelting, closure of schools, and an endless strike, these forms of protest were openly, and not so openly, encouraged. We are now facing its ill effects. The menace of drug addiction has much to do with how we destroyed our society, our economy, and our politics through these runaway protests. When the Mirwaiz speaks at the meeting conducted by Muttahida Majlise Ulema, I wish he takes it forward, and stares into the face of the big picture.

Fifth, he is the central figure in Kashmir’s age old religio-social institution of preaching and prayers – Mirwaiz. The centrality of Jamia Masjid Srinagar in the Muslim ethos of Kashmir goes without saying, and it gives Umar Farooq a concrete handle to effect any changes in the Kashmir’s Muslim society. I believe he has a crucial role, in this capacity, to save us from the violent ideas that are presented as sacred to our youth. This is the most challenging task before the Mirwaiz. And here, he being young and exposed to the modern world, can better understand the need to look beyond our traditional religious narrative. I am sure, he must have come across this name – Ghamidi.  He is the lone man carrying a lamp in this layered and crusted darkness. We cannot afford to ignore him.

Tailpiece: Another great man of our times Ahmed Javed says:

Riyasat mazboot na ho to mua’shira aik bohat bada yateem khana ban jaata hai

When the state weakens, society turns into one huge orphanage.

We need to discover new forms of functional political organisation. The local government is one such form, and there is nothing Haram about it. Can Umar Sahab speak up.