Saffron brigade's secular face in Jammu & Kashmir

Saffron brigade's secular face in Jammu & Kashmir

Saffron brigade's secular face in Jammu & Kashmir

At a time when youth are being polarised on communal lines, a young Muslim from the Saffron brigade is doing everything to uphold the secular fabric of Kashmir. Meet 41-year-old Sheikh Khalid Jehangir, a journalist-turned-politician, who is the Muslim face of right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kashmir as he takes pride in saying that his mission is to eradicate corruption from the state.   

“Corruption is a big menace in the whole country. But in Kashmir it is more dangerous as political corruption is rampant here and has only festered since 1990s," Jehangir told DH.
He says, “see it is political parties in Kashmir who have nurtured this culture (corruption), in the state from 1947. They feed people with hollow promises of autonomy and dialogue with Pakistan. In reality they have made fortunes out of the miseries of people of the state. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), probing terror funding in Kashmir, must also expand its investigation and expose the misdeeds of these politicians.”

Jehangir says he is coming up with an “army of fellow Kashmiri brethren” to fight corruption. His organisation is identifying people to fight politicians, who have for decades not worked for development of the state  and promoted corruption and divided people in the name region and religion. These politicians have always misled people and tried to alienate them from the rest of the country for the sake of power, he says.

According to Jehangir, Kashmir problem is more about denial of basic rights to people than anything else. “The Government of India has pumped in crores and crores of rupees for the development in Kashmir. But unfortunately, a few political families have been benefited while common man is still fighting for basic amenities,” he says.

Jehangir, who comes from a staunch nationalist family from central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, was a few months ago appointed as Vice-Chairman of a premier J&K Projects Construction Corporation Ltd (JKPCC) by the state government. In less than three months, he has been able to instil fear among the corrupt officials of the corporation. “There are hundreds of daily-wagers in the corporation, who are without their wages for months and contractors haven't been paid their bills. But some officials were spending money lavishly for their personal comforts which I have stopped,” he claims.

Jehangir is married to Susan, a Christian from Tamil Nadu, now settled in Kashmir. Over the years, his family, including two daughters Sofia and Rania, have grown up celebrating festivals of the twin faiths together.

“Kashmiris are secular and peace-loving people. My wife is a Christian. So I have multiple reasons to celebrate Christmas,”  he says.

Jehangir accompanies his wife to the church on festival days. “The presence of Muslims like me is a must at such auspicious occasions as the population of Christians here is very less and they need the support of other communities. Moreover let’s not forget that Jesus PBUH is my prophet as a Muslim as well, so why not look for commonalities between various faiths than look for reasons of divide,” he argues.

On his decision to join a right-wing party like BJP, which is mostly seen as “outcast” in Kashmir for its “communal ideology”, Jehangir says actually this party propagates and preaches that all religions are same. “This is a propaganda that the BJP believes in religious intolerance. This is something that is planted by media and it is its way of selling news to  audience. In fact people in Kashmir like this party as it was during (Atal Bihari) Vajpayeeji's tenure that people got relief from killings, corruption and witnessed first free-and-fair elections in 2002,” he says.

Jehangir, who is also the BJP spokesperson in Kashmir, has been organising counseling sessions for the youth against stone-pelting. “We do it to convince the youth that separatists are misusing them for their personal benefits. We are listing all the grievances people face in the state and also trying to counsel them that we shouldn't pave way to violent means,” he says.

Jehangir, who studied at prestigious Burn Hall School in Srinagar, was the first youngest Kashmiri to represent in United Nations Commission for Human Rights in Geneva from 1999 to 2003. He has attended international conferences on J& K in Europe and contributed his insights to governments, international organisations like RAND, European Parliament and other policy makers. But then Jehangir says he has no big political ambitions as an individual.

Though he could have easily bagged a berth for the 2014 Assembly elections, Jehangir preferred to maintain a low profile. “Getting power for the sake of it is not my style of politics. In Kashmir it has been the thirst for power which has been the mother of all political sins. The new generation of politicians should not be power hungry and they should rise above. Otherwise, Kashmir will continue to be the same,” he adds.

   Jehangir says as a politician, his basic aim is to be the “friend, philosopher and guide” to get the misguided youth back to mainstream fold. A staunch supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Jehangir says, Modi wave is fast gripping Kashmir. “Youth have started understanding Man Ki Baat, they will speak out their hearts soon.”