Memory: when Ashfaq Majid confronted NC leader

Recorded by Seerat Yusra Ali 

As the group of laborers passed outside, Ashfaq Majid Wani’s eyes followed them. Suddenly, he stood up and marched out of a café in city centre where we were sitting. Minutes later, he walked in with a group of ten laborers and made them sit. All of us looked at him as he ordered tea for them. We were surprised as none of us had money that day. He smiled and asked the present chief of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Mohammad Yasin Malik to rush to his home in Maisuma and fetch money.   
It was soon after the Operation Blue Star against Sikhs in Punjab had ended that I first met Ashfaq in 1984. We didn’t have much in common except mutual opposition to the Indian rule. A year earlier I had been arrested for the first time when I was a part of a non-violent protest against the government. We were already a group of boys with just stones in our hands and when we met Ashfaq, who was younger than us, we were overwhelmed by his presence and personality. He was educated, religious, had a unique eloquence and his simplicity would bowl any one over. At that time he was not famous, people barely knew who he was. But even as a boy he was respected even by his seniors for his sound character. 
After our first meeting with him, we met often whenever protests were organized. Days ahead of the Indian Independence Day or Republic Day, government would arrest us. Jails were our homes. As awkward teenagers dissent gave meaning to our lives. 
Two years later, Ashfaq was instrumental in forming a student group— Islamic Students League. His ability to lead is unparalleled. He seemed from some another world. He was extremely modest even though he belonged to a rich family. In his home one would find the latest gadgets and facilities, but he was never inclined to worldly things and always appeared like a man from street. He would never miss prayers.
In the same year the student group that I had also become a part of organized an Eid-Milad March in Srinagar, but the government banned it. We were picked up during raids, badly tortured, beaten and injured. But we didn’t give up.
Next year came the state election. Although the student group strongly opposed elections as our basic demand was to form a free country, we were approached by Mohammad Yusuf Shah, the present chief of United Jehad Council, who was contesting from Srinagar as a Muslim United Front candidate. But we plainly refused to support any political group which was in the election fray. During one such meeting, Shah said his organization was also supporting the struggle to forma an separate nation and wanted to form a government in the state and pass a new resolution in the Assembly. So we called a meeting, where Ashfaq was also present, and came to a resolution that we will support the individuals but not the party. 
We took part in Shah’s campaigns and on the voting day Ashfaq was assigned a polling agent’s role at the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic (DAV) school booth in Jawahar Nagar. His job was to patrol and see the votes were being cast in a fair manner. 
On that day we were informed that fake votes were being cast by National Conference workers at the Presentation Convent School polling booth. Therefore, we went there only to find that our polling agent had been tied up with ropes. The security did not let anyone in but only the candidate. Therefore, Shah went in and was badly beaten up by the National Conference agents. 
The National Conference workers had locked the polling booth and were casting fake votes and when Shah was beaten Ashfaq decided to barge inside. A clash ensued. 
Shah had managed majority votes  but instead NC candidate Mohi-ud-din Shah was declared victorious. Many among us, including Ashfaq, were arrested but some like me went underground. Probably a month later, Ashfaq family secured a bail for him as his uncle was to get married. 
I bear witness to what Ashfaq told Mohi-ud-din Shah who attended his uncle’s marriage. Mohi-ud-din Shah told Ashfaq: now that I have released you, don’t ever protest again. I remember, Ashfaq replied: “You did a great mistake that you released me. You will always regret this.” Next day Ashfaq jumped parole and Kashmir changed for ever.

(Aftab Ahmed Dar, a former Maisuma resident, is a businessman)