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“Your hard work paid off”, PM tells a man in Srinagar: Read who is Modi’s ‘Host and Dost’ Ashraf Azad and how Modi went on a mission in Kashmir with him 3 decades ago

Ashraf Azad met Narendra Modi in 1992 when BJP leaders visited Srinagar to hoist the national flag, since then Modi has been maintaining contact with him who later became a BJP member

As part of the ‘Viksit Bharat Viksit Jammu and Kashmir’ program, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a Kashmir tour on Thursday (7th March) to inaugurate several development works in the valley. At the Srinagar airport, PM Modi was greeted by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, Minister of State in the PMO Jitendra Singh, and other senior officials. However, amidst the distinguished gathering, PM Modi took a moment to meet a 60-year-old man and inquire about his well-being and that of his family members.

On his return from Kashmir on the same day, PM Modi once again met with the same person at the Srinagar airport. During their second interaction, PM Modi appreciated his efforts, stating, “Azad Saheb, your hard work has paid off. Many people had come to the gathering.”

Ashraf Azad – more than 3 decades of friendship with PM Modi

At the Srinagar Airport, the man who met PM Modi was seen wearing a black kurta with a white beard and a saffron-coloured waistcoat, a tricolor turban on his head, and a BJP scarf on his shoulder. The 60-year-old man who surprised many with his presence was Ashraf Azad, known as the ‘Host and Kashmiri Dost’ of PM Modi and BJP’s 1st Muslim Leader from Valley. 

Azad is a resident of Hakarmulla village in the Budgam district. He developed a friendship with BJP leader Narendra Modi long before Modi became the Prime Minister of India or the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Azad also hosted PM Modi at his home for several days when the BJP leader visited the valley over three decades ago, at a time when militant insurgency was at its peak.

BJP leader’s Tiranga Yatra that shaped Azad’s future course of action

In January 1992, as part of their Tiranga Yatra and to mark Republic Day, Narendra Modi along with the then BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi reached Lal Chowk in Srinagar to hoist the Indian flag. In those days, Kashmir was gripped by violent extremism and terrorism. Their courageous announcement to unfurl the Indian tricolour despite death threats from terrorists had surprised a 26-year-old youth who was back then reportedly associated with extremist organisations. 

Amazed by the commitment and courage of BJP leaders, Mohammad Ashraf Hazam, also known as ‘Azad,’ went to Lal Chowk out of curiosity to see who the individuals were determined to embark on a suicide mission, risking their lives during the era of terrorism.

(Excerpts from Indian narrative article outlining PM Modi’s personal ground connect with Kashmir for more than 3 decades)

As BJP President Murali Manohar Joshi and his associates hoisted the flag at Lal Chowk, Ashraf Hazam ‘Azad’ saluted the Indian flag which caught the eye of BJP leader Narendra Modi who took him along to a guesthouse in Chashma Shahi. Modi was thrilled to know that at least one Kashmiri Muslim had joined his group, which was almost unimaginable during those days. There Narendra Modi introduced Ashraf to Joshi and others in his team. 

The BJP leaders asked him if he would like to work for peace and welfare of Kashmir’s youths, and he agreed. Thus began his association with the BJP and he left his extremist leanings. Later, BJP leaders, including Narendra Modi, invited Azad to Delhi, where he met with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A few months later, Narendra Modi returned to Srinagar and reunited with Azad, who then hired a private taxi and personally drove Modi to his village in the Budgam district.

Travelled from village to village in Kashmir for 10 days

Azad hosted Narendra Modi at his home in Hakermulla near Soibudh, which was dreaded for being the native village of Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin. They then embarked on a visit to every village in all the six districts of Kashmir for about 10 days without any security. According to Azad, Modi was then on a BJP-RSS mission, but he had presented himself as a human rights activist.

During his trip to villages in Kashmir, Modi remained as a nondescript BJP activist to study and survey separatism. On his way, Modi met hundreds of people in all six districts during his visit and took notes as a ‘social worker’ without arguing with anybody. Azad said that the villagers didn’t ask from which state he was from, and Narendra Modi also didn’t reveal the same.

Azad said in an interview to India Narrative, “We went to the top militant strongholds of Soibug in Budgam and Zoonarishi in Kupwara. We also visited Dargah Hazratbal, Jamia Masjid and many places in Srinagar. We went inside the University of Kashmir campuses where he chatted with the teachers and students. He introduced himself as ‘a social activist from our own Jammu Kashmir,’—some took him as a sympathiser from Jammu— listened to everybody with patience and took extensive notes without arguing with anybody.”

During the interactions with the villagers, Modi asked them about the reasons for their alienation from India and their political aspirations. Some people told him that nothing except Azadi (independence from India) would be acceptable for Kashmiris, while others wanted development, better roads, education, jobs etc.

Afterward, Azad joined the Bhartiya Janata Party and has been associated with the saffron party to date. He had campaigned for the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Srinagar-Budgam in 1996. He ciontested assembly polls on BJP ticket from Budam in 1996, 2002 and 2008.

In the interview published in January 2022, after the abrogation of Article 370, Ashraf Azad said that even though he didn’t receive any higher position or material benefit, he is happy that the mission that they started in 1992 has been accomplished to a great extent. “I beseeched the people of my Soibugh area to hate violence and forget about Salahuddin, who was in the village and left for Pakistan later in 1993. This village, which was the seat of Hizbul Mujahideen’s influence, donated 155 kanals of land free of cost on my request for Degree College, Sub District Hospital, Tehsil Office and Azad Bharat Stadium. A football playfield is coming up at Daharmuna”, Azad said.

Ashraf Azad has been meeting Narendra Modi regularly since their early association, even after Modi became Gujarat’s CM and then the PM of India. Talking about these meetings and PM Modi, he had said, “Every time we meet, he asks me about my family, neighbours and other residents of the area. I am sure no Indian politician matches Narendra Modi’s ground knowledge about Kashmir and its political conflict. It was not for nothing that he once told Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed at the public meeting in Srinagar that he didn’t need anybody’s advice on Kashmir”.

Taking to X, Kashmir’s independent journalist Ahmed Ali Fayyaz recalled about that tour in his social media post. According to him, Modi then talked to the people about their political aspirations, social and economic issues, development, history, etc.

According to Fayyaz, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Azad met again at Srinagar airport during the Lok Sabha election campaign in February 2019, both friends reminisced about their old days. On Thursday (7th March 2024), the two friends met again at the Srinagar airport and inquired about each other’s well-being. At the airport, PM Modi introduced Azad as his old friend.

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