In a significant move indicating a softening of the government’s position towards separatists, separatist Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was released from house arrest on Friday.
Following his release, all eyes are on the first sermon of Mirwaiz that he is expected to deliver at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid later on Friday.
Mirwaiz had been under house arrest since the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India on August 5, 2019. According to the management committee of the grand mosque of Kashmir, Jamia Masjid, Mirwaiz will take part in the Friday congregational prayers at the historic mosque.
Jammu and Kashmir-based political parties have welcomed the release of the Mirwaiz.
“I welcome the step taken by the administration in J&K to release Mirwaiz Umar Farooq from house arrest. I hope that they allow him to move freely, interact with people, and resume his social and religious responsibilities. Today, eyes in Kashmir will be on Mirwaiz as he delivers his first Friday sermon at Jamia Masjid since 2019,” said former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
People’s Democratic Party President and former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti said, “Finally, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq will walk as a free man after years of LG’s administration’s denial about his detention. As a religious leader, he is held in high regard by Muslims across J&K. It is unfortunate that a tussle has already begun between various BJP political outfits to claim credit for his release.”
Apni Party leader Altaf Bukhari has been stating for the past few weeks that Mirwaiz will be released and he will offer prayers after him.
On January 25, 2021, Apni Party President Syed Altaf Bukhari met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. In the meeting, Bukhari, asked Modi to lift the ban on 4G mobile internet services across Jammu and Kashmir, sought the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits with the majority community in the Valley, and called for the restoration of statehood.
Bukhari was earlier with the PDP and was a minister in the PDP-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. He held important portfolios of education and finance. On March 8, 2020, this businessman-turned-politician formed Apni Party when Mufti was in jail. The National Conference (NC) and others call the Apni Party as the BJP’s B-team in Kashmir.
Mirwaiz is seen as the most moderate among separatists. It was his faction of the Hurriyat Conference that held talks with the Centre on January 22, 2004, with the then-Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani. Later, on March 27, 2004, they met the then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat Conference held another round of dialogue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the formation of the UPA government on September 5, 2005. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Bilal Gani Lone, and Fazlul Haq Qureshi had met Singh.
After the abrogation of Article 370, the separatist political landscape in Kashmir has changed. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was kept under house arrest since August 2019, while the government would give different signals about his detention, stating that he was free to go anywhere. In August, Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor Manoj Sinha said Hurriyat leader is a free man and can go anywhere. However, later, Anjuman Auqaf Jamia Masjid, the management body of the grand mosque, said Mirwaiz has been under house arrest since August 4, 2019, and he was not allowed to offer Friday congregational prayers at the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar.
On September 14, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir issued a notice to the government, asking it to respond within four weeks to a habeas corpus petition challenging the “illegal confinement” of Mirwaiz. The case has been listed for October 4. As Sinha had been claiming that Mirwaiz is “free to go wherever he likes”, Mirwaiz’s lawyer Nazir Ahmad Ronga filed a petition stating that Mirwaiz tried to come out of his house after Sinha’s statement to attend congregational Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid in Srinagar on August 26.
“The fact is that the petitioner is not being allowed to move or to attend the congregational prayers on Fridays at Jamia Masjid, Srinagar,” the petition says.
On January 29, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) sealed the Hurriyat Conference headquarters at Rajbagh on the orders of a Delhi court in a terror-funding case. A team of NIA from the national capital arrived in Srinagar and shut the premises under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).