As Mirwaiz Umar Farooq began his first speech after four years of house arrest at the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, he became emotional. Kashmiris and major political parties from across the Valley were eager to hear what Mirwaiz had to say after his long-awaited release. He talked about peace, pervasive silence all across Kashmir, and dismemberment of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019. He also pressed for a dialogue to resolve the issues within the region.
While talking about his role in the current situation, Mirwaiz said, "At present, there is absolutely no space for us, for the expression of our opinions, aspirations, and concerns. What can we do? This is the time to conserve, be patient, and act responsibly.” With massive security arrangements in place outside the grand mosque and drones hovering inside, Mirwaiz's congregation passed off peacefully as expected. There were no separatist slogans raised in the mosque. Mirwaiz's release is perceived as a softening and changing approach of the BJP towards Kashmiri separatists, who have mostly remained silent after the abrogation of Article 370, with some in jails and others opting for silence.
Mirwaiz said he and his colleagues in All Parties Hurriyat Conference have always believed Kashmir is an issue that has to be addressed and resolved. A part of J&K is in India, another part with Pakistan, and some part with China and all this makes the state of Jammu and Kashmir an issue, he said.
“This is a human problem for us, the people of Jammu and Kashmir, not a territorial tug of war. We also want to move beyond it."
Mirwaiz quoted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that this is not an era of war. “We have always believed and participated in efforts of resolution through an alternative to violent means which is dialogue and reconciliation. We have personally suffered for pursuing this route. We were called separatists and anti-nationals. We have no personal ambition but to represent the interests and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir who are our basic concern, and people want settlement, and peace bringing prosperity with it, but on their (people's) terms,” he said.
He also advocated for the return of Kashmiri Pandits and criticized the politicisation of this humanitarian issue. He expressed concern for those who are currently incarcerated, including leaders, young men, boys, journalists, human rights activists, and lawyers, and sought their release. "I am meeting you after four years and two months. Since August 4, 2019, I was placed under house arrest by the authorities and not allowed to move out or meet with people. All my rights and liberties were curtailed. Despite repeated appeals, I was not released. Finally, after taking this matter to the court, yesterday, I was informed by the police officials who came to visit me that the authorities had decided to release me from house detention."
"It is a very emotional moment for me."
Talking about the abrogation of Article 370, he said despite him being under house arrest, APHC has been voicing its anguish over the developing situation. “But due to the gag on its statements, especially in the local media both electronic and print, our voice is not allowed to be heard,” he said.
Following his release, all eyes were on the first sermon of Mirwaiz that he delivered at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid. Jammu and Kashmir-based political parties, including the National Conference, PDP, Peoples Conference, and even BJP, have welcomed the release of the Mirwaiz.
Peoples Conference described it as a joyous day. “I welcome the release, but let us not forget there are hundreds of people who are in custody. As a goodwill gesture, the government of India should release them,” Lone said.
Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said, “Finally, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq will walk a free man after years of LG's admin’s denial about his detention. As a religious head, he is held in high regard by Muslims across J&K. Unfortunate that a tussle has already begun between BJP's various political outfits to claim credit for his release.”
The BJP described Mirwaiz as an important leader who has a role in the society. BJP leader Darshan Andrabi said the administration took the right step in releasing him.
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.