On Friday, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq will hold a rally at Srinagar’s Idgah ground to mark the 20th death anniversary of his father Moulvi Mohammed Farooq. The day will also be a landmark for him, reminding him how a personal tragedy pushed him into public life at the age of 17.
Mirwaiz came into the limelight almost by chance. After becoming chairman of the Awami Action Committee, following his father’s assassination, he was chosen as the first chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference — an umbrella group of Kashmir’s separatist organisations and leaders — in 1993.
The reason: senior separatist leaders such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the late Abdul Ghani Lone could not see eye-to-eye. The soft-spoken Mirwaiz was as the alternative they all agreed upon.
“There was a generational gap with the people I was working with,” Mirwaiz told Hindustan Times.
Since then, however, he has come to represent the softer face of Kashmiri separatism not just in India but worldwide —
playing the dual role of a religious preacher and political leader.
“It has been a difficult journey. At that time, when I took over as custodian of the religious institution of Mirwaiz
(chief cleric), I had no idea of the political role that was coming my way,” he said.
But he had fiercely loyal followers and seniors in the organisation did not feel threatened by him. Slowly but surely, Mirwaiz managed to overshadow them all.
As his profile has grown, conflicts with other senior leaders have been inevitable. Geelani calls him unreliable and does not want to be seen with him. Their differences split the Hurriyat some years ago.
Lone’s son, Sajjad Ghani Lone, of the People’s Conference, has accused the Mirwaiz of double standards. Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front also fails to see any merit in working with him.
“I have tried to maintain a balance,” the Mirwaiz said. “Overall it has been a great learning experience. Kashmir is a complex place and situation. There is India on one side, Pakistan on the other and then we have our own constituency. Now, I can read people and understand things better.”