Indian secularism of the Left variety has always been a monumental sham, acting as a cover for blatant religious partisanship. However, the problem when you lie and lie too often is that the mask ends up slipping, and that is what happened with the so-called secular erstwhile leaders of Kashmir this week.
Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are notorious for their insistence on secularism in India while their friends in the press go to extraordinary lengths to cover up their bigotry and blatantly sectarian politics. Most tales of their secularism originate with cronies in the press and have little factual basis outside of the statements in TV studios that these two grandees make; rather the secularism they espouse is just a blanket attack on Hindutva while screaming Islamophobia for everything under the sun.
Of course, these days to be counted as secular you just need to make nasty statements about Hindutva irrespective of what your antecedents are, and in the case of Farooq and Mehbooba the antecedents are legion. This week, Farooq Abdullah hoped that the Taliban could give good governance in Afghanistan under the rubric of Islamic law. Meanwhile, Mehbooba Mufti went a step further, claiming that the Taliban could become role model for the world if they followed true sharia. The National Conference (NC) tried to backtrack on Farooq’s comments claiming that he had not backed the Taliban as some were alleging. This of course was a straw man argument.
The outrage was not about backing the Taliban. Rather it was about backing the implementation of sharia law by an allegedly secular politician, in a secular country, whose government he attacks day in and day out for destroying secularism and calling its organisational philosophy of Hindutva fascist.
This should hardly surprise us because one look at the origin of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would show you that it was a nonstarter till Mehbooba’s father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed cultivated the Jamaat-e-Islami in Kashmir, who then provided turnkey cadre to the party. The key, of course, lies in the name because no Jamaat-e-Islami anywhere in the world would provide a large cadre base that isn’t rooted in supremacist fundamentalism. What we also need to realise is that the Jamaat-e-Islami in Kashmir also founded the Hizbul Mujahideen, the dreaded terrorist organisation.
The way this arrangement works is very similar to the Irish Republican Army and the Sinn Fein. Essentially, the Hizbul Mujahideen acts as the terror arm of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which in turn acts as the theological arm of the PDP, which in turn acts as the political arm of the Hizbul Mujahideen and Jamaat-e-Islami. Mind you, the National Conference isn’t exactly far behind in appeasing organisations like the Jamaat-e-Islami.
For example, in 1998 in an attempt to weaken the growing appeal of the PDP and take away some of its foot soldiers, Farooq Abdullah introduced a scheme called Rehbar-e-Taleem. Ostensibly, this was meant to give government jobs to firebrand religious preachers of the Jamaat-e-Islami but anybody familiar with the situation in Kashmir would know that this logic was complete bunkum. What the scheme did was: it recruited Jamaat nominees to teaching positions in schools and universities across Kashmir giving them vital access to fertile young minds, spreading their sectarian venom in the coming generations. This essentially gave the Jamaat-e-Islami and by extension the Hizbul Mujahideen a virtual monopoly over what young Kashmiris studied and believed, and acted as a major factor in radicalisation.
Needless to say that between Mehbooba Mufti and her father on the one hand and Farooq Abdullah and his son on the other neither party has spared any effort to normalise terrorists as misguided youth and give free tickets to Pakistan consistently, insisting that Pakistan be included in any normalisation attempt. Moreover, both these parties and their leadership have gone to extraordinary lengths to perpetuate the myth that the ethnic cleansing of 600,000 Kashmiri Pandits was carried out by the Indian central government and then Governor Jagmohan despite massive evidence to the contrary, and minimising the role of radical Islam in that ethnocide.
Ultimately, what we need to realise is that when you are an epitome of failed governance, you will always fall back on identity politics especially when your state is both industrialised and radicalised. For us to think that outwardly sophisticated socialites who could hold a conversation in Lutyens’ party circuit would somehow be secular and not fall for the worst excesses of religious fundamentalism in order to gain votes was naïve. After all, the great grand daddy of the entire Islamist conundrum that South Asia finds itself in was a pork-eating, alcohol-drinking man called Muhammad Ali Jinnah, described as an apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity who didn’t hesitate for a moment to play the vilest religious politics when it suited him.
In the case of Mehbooba and Farooq, the writing has always been on the wall that their urbane sophistication has been a cover for an idea of an independent Kashmir not very different from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, just that instead of an Akhundzada, it would have a Mehbooba, Farooq or Omar. The real question is who consistently suppressed or downplayed these disturbing antecedents of the so-called “secular pro-India” trio, why and how much longer will we continue to perpetuate this discredited myth despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.