Srinagar: In the restive Jammu and Kashmir, BJP is all set to field a former Pakistan-trained militant who has spent seven years in jail after the state was hit by widespread insurgency in the aftermath of the controversial 1987 elections when he crossed over to the neighbouring country.
Mohammad Farooq Khan, a reformed militant, is one of the hundreds who’ll be contesting the upcoming urban body elections, but his profile is one of the few that stands out.
Born in 1970 in Barbarshah area of downtown Srinagar, the son of a cloth merchant studied at a local school and then went to the city’s famous Sri Pratap College.
He was still in college when the decisive 1987 elections were alleged to be rigged at a large scale and triggered insurgency.
“I had made some new friends in college who were active in politics and joined them. I was one of the polling agents of Syed Salahuddin,” Khan tells News18, sitting on the lawns of BJP’s Srinagar office.
Syed Salahuddin, whose actual name is Mohammed Yusuf Shah, was contesting assembly elections from Amira Kadal constituency in Srinagar in 1987 as a candidate of the Muslim United Front (MUF).
Shah and his party lost the elections amid allegations of mass rigging. Militancy erupted in Kashmir and Shah crossed over to Pakistan. He is said to be heading Hizbul Mujahideen ever since. Salahuddin has been designated a 'global terrorist' by the United States.
Hundreds of youths started crossing the Line of Control to train in arms usage and Khan was one of them.
“In 1989, I crossed the LoC and got training in Mianwali and other places for over two months,” says Khan.
He became a militant and was associated with Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which was a militant organization at the time. Khan became active in Srinagar.
The BJP leader narrates that back in the days, militancy was the “norm” and his parents were also “supportive” of his choices.
On September 7, 1991, forces cordoned off Munawarabad area of the city and Khan was trapped and arrested.
“I was subjected to torture at different interrogation centers of Kashmir for over a year.” He breaks down while remembering the notorious torture centres — Papa 2, Papa 1 and Hotel 4.
“Over the next three years, I did not know if I was a man or a woman. My private parts were subjected to electric shocks,” Khan recalls and wipes his tears. “I don’t want to go through that pain all over again.”
He was later put in Jammu’s Kotbalwal Jail and Delhi’s Tihar Jail over a period of seven years. But he says these jails changed him as a person.
“In jail, I met top militant commanders, including Masood Azhar, Sajad Afgani and Nasrullah Langriyal — top Pakistani militant commanders who were arrested in Kashmir during the 90s and they taught me how to read,” Khan says.
He further recalls how he was once beaten up by Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar for not finishing his reading assignment. Azhar is said to be the mastermind of the deadly 2016 Pathankot air base attack.
“During my jail term, I read more than two hundred books, mostly Islamic literature. It was an overwhelming experience and it opened my mind towards global politics.”
In January 1996, Khan was released from jail. He was jobless and confused.
“I met Hurriyat leaders but no one helped,” he says.
To make ends meet, he worked as a welder with an ironsmith, sold ice creams and also tried his hand at painting buildings.
“I used to earn Rs 3000 a month as a welder.”
Later, a friend who is also a former militant, helped him and bought him an iron welding machine, a drill and a grinder, which helped Khan become a full-time ironsmith.
In 2002, Khan got married to a woman in the neighbourhood. “She was moved by my painful past and agreed to marry me.”
Khan says he was appalled by the “pathetic” condition of the former militants who were trying to get back into the mainstream.
“I had begun meeting top police officials of the state and then Inspector General SM Sahai, who gave me the idea of an NGO to fight for the rights of ex-militants,” Khan told News18.
This gave birth to his NGO, ‘J&K Human Welfare Association’.
He has also held a number of protests and hunger strikes while demanding rights for ex-militants. “My main demand was that we should be issued passports and the police should stop harassing us,” he says.
This is when he met top BJP leaders. In 2013, he claims he gifted Rajnath Singh a Quran and told him to read the message of peace in it.
During this time, Khan was making contacts in the BJP ranks and other parties.
When the urban and local body elections were announced this year, amid tensions in the Valley, Khan got a call from Delhi.
“I had not joined BJP but a friend of mine in Delhi suggested that I contest the elections on a BJP ticket.”
According to Khan, there is nothing wrong in fighting elections. He credits late cleric Molvi Farooq for introducing BJP in Kashmir.
“It was Molvi Farooq who supported Abdul Rasheed Kabli, a Janta Dal candidate and helped him win the elections in 1977. He brought Hindutva in the state,” he says.
Khan, however, avoids commenting on the issues of Article 370 and 35-A, saying these are “matters meant for bigger leaders”.
Khan says he will be labeled a ‘mukhbir’ (informer) and ‘kafir’ (infidel) for surviving the system.
“If you die here, hundreds and thousands of people will hail you and attend your funeral, but if you survive, you are ‘kafir’.”
His concern, Khan says, is to work for the development of the people, which he believes is the only good that one can do for the society.
“I am working for the welfare and development of the people and participating in the elections is my right.”
Khan feels, the root of the problem in Kashmir is the “rigging” of the 1987 elections.
“Had there been no rigging, there would have been no Syed Salahuddin and no militancy in Kashmir.”
Kashmir’s conflict also claimed the life of his younger brother, who was also a militant in the 90s.
But Khan is now optimistic about his win and believes that his win can usher the Valley into a new and peaceful Kashmir.