The five times Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah has opened a Pandora’s Box by admitting that some of his colleagues advised him against allowing the Muharram procession.
He didn’t name his colleagues who prevented him from allowing the Shia mourners to discharge their religious duties but tried to drive home a point that when he was the J&K chief minister, he was ready to allow the Muharram procession from the traditional route but he was told not to take the risk.
“We wanted this to happen earlier as well. When I was chief minister, I wanted this to take place, but some of our very own people were against it. I do not want to name them, they have passed away. Otherwise, what was the reason that it was not allowed?” Dr Abdullah said.
Muharram processions in Kashmir were banned in 1990 soon after the Pakistan sponsored insurgency broke out in Jammu and Kashmir.
After 33-years the J&K administration led by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha took a bold decision and allowed the 8th Muharram procession on its traditional route from Abiguzar to Dalgate this year.
On 10th Muharram i.e. the day of Ashura, LG Sinha joined the mourners at Bot Kadal in Srinagar’s old city. It was for the first time since 1990 that the head of J&K attended the Zuljinah procession in Downtown Srinagar.
LG Sinha’s participation in Ashura and his decision to allow 8th Muharram procession through its traditional route not only demonstrated solidarity with the Shiacommunity but also sent a strong message of unity and inclusivity.
His presence at Bot Kadal on Ashura signified a break from the past and a willingness to engage with the sentiments of different religious groups in the region.
Pertinently, National Conference president and former J&K chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah made an attempt to strike a chord with the members of Shia community by claiming that he also wanted to allow the Muharram processions but the fact is that his party ruled J&K from 1996 to 2002 and again from 2008 to 2014 but during those years no such attempt was made. Instead NC leaders from Srinagar’s old city were instrumental in sabotaging any such decision, and Dr Abdullah has admitted it.
It seems that politicians conspired to maintain a constant threat perception, intimidating the administration with the potential for bloodshed and violence if such processions were allowed.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Dr Farooq Abdullah’s admission is that it confirmed a long-standing conspiracy theory that there was a tacit understanding between the mainstream leaders and separatists to serve their collective political interests while undermining the religious aspirations of the Shia community.
Dr Abdullah’s revelation that he desired to grant permission but was misled by his own people indicates a significant shift in the narrative. By making such an admission, Dr Abdullah has wittingly or unwittingly acknowledged the wrongful practices of mainstream leaders. This accusation has unsettled the established order, holding both mainstream leaders and separatists accountable for their role in perpetuating a climate of fear rather than prioritising communal harmony and religious freedoms.
Amidst this backdrop of historical reluctance, the administration under the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha adopted a different approach.
People welcomed the decision to grant permission and saw it as a significant step towards religious freedom and communal harmony. They maintained that denying the Shia community their right to mourn and express their religious sentiments was against the principles of a democratic and inclusive society.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the 8th Muharram procession was that it culminated peacefully. Participation of LG Sinha in the 10th Muharram procession set a precedent for future administrations to address religious concerns while upholding public safety.
To ensure a lasting impact of LG Sinha’s move to lead from the front it is essential for all stakeholders, including mainstream leaders and the administration, to work together in fostering an environment of trust and understanding.
The Muharram processions are a symbol of religious tolerance and communal harmony in Kashmir. Mainstream leaders in Kashmir should seize this opportunity to build bridges and dispel the shadows of mistrust and tender an apology for the wrongs they have committed in the past.
The writer is presently director of International Centre for Peace Studies , ICPS .