Anand Ashram, an influential Sunni Muslim cleric, is facing a backlash after it was revealed that he was in a religious meeting with some of the country’s biggest Shia clerics and activists on the sidelines of the Indian Muslim conference in Pakistan.
Sunnis and Shiites, who have historically held different opinions in the region, are competing to see which can survive and which cannot.
Sunni-majority Kashmir has long been a symbol of political instability in the troubled region.
But it has seen a sharp rise in religious tension between the Sunni and Shia communities in recent years, with the former often blaming the latter for political oppression.
The meeting was organised by Sheikh Abdullah, the spiritual leader of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, and took place in the town of Sahibul Muzaffarabad, close to the disputed Indian border.
Ashram founder Anand, whose followers include the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Omar Khorasani, and the leader of an influential Muslim outfit called Ashura, Shafiq, were also present.
Shia Muslims in Kashmir, the world’s largest Sunni-majority Muslim-majority country, have been the target of attacks by Sunni militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Lashkar.
Anand has denied any involvement in the meeting, and said he was not aware of any meeting between Sunni and Shiite clerics.
Shiites have accused Ashura and Shafiquas of organising a meeting with Shia clerics to rally against the Muslim government in the province, where they claim their sect is not recognized by Pakistan.
In June, Sheikh Abdullah said he had invited Sheikh Omar to speak to him about “the issues of Kashmir”.
“I wanted to ask him about his views on the Kashmir issue, and to hear his views,” Sheikh Abdullah told AFP news agency at the time.
“He agreed to come to me and discuss Kashmir.”
In August, a statement by Sheikh Omar’s organisation, the Muslim Students Association, accused Sheikh Abdullah of working with the Hindu nationalists to undermine the Muslim-dominated administration in Kashmir.
“He is the leader behind the ‘peace talks’ in which he was a participant, but which never led to any progress,” the statement said.
In January, a court in the southern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir ruled that the controversial Jammu & Kashmir Assembly would have to be dissolved, a decision that was seen as a victory for Sheikh Abdullah’s group, which argues that the Assembly was illegitimate because of the Muslim population’s refusal to recognise it as an independent state.
The case is being heard in the Supreme Court in New Delhi.