Farooq Abdullah and Syed Ali Shah Geelani on Saturday sparred in public here with the former Chief Minister asking him to give up his “movement of violence” in Jammu and Kashmir and telling him secession can never be accepted.
Accusing the separatist leader of leading a violent campaign in Jammu and Kashmir, he also ruled out the state returning to pre-1947 position or the possibility of holding a plebiscite in the state, a demand pressed by Mr. Geelani.
Participating in a discussion on “Kashmir, What Next” at the “India Today” conclave, Mr. Abdullah counselled Mr. Geelani, Chairman of hardline Hurriyat Conference, to take the cue from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who he said he gave up a violent struggle in the larger interest of peace.
Mr. Geelani, who was surprised at the presence of Mr. Abdullah, who took the place of BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, who failed to turn up, on the dais but heard him patiently, was heard murmuring to the moderator why he was not told about the Union Minister being part of the panel of speakers.
“Farooq sahab was not one of the speakers. My elders have said, and I am sure your elders would have also said, that if someone is sick, he can be treated but habits cannot be treated,” he remarked sarcastically.
In his speech, Mr. Geelani said the problem of Kashmir is one of “broken promises” right from the beginning.
However, he was attacked by another panelist Arif Mohd Khan, a former Union Minister, who said that Mr. Geelani had contested Assembly elections in which one has to affirm faith in the Indian constitution.
“But now look at the freedom in this country. He (Geelani) has the freedom to trash the Constitution he once took oath under,” Mr. Khan said.
Indian Muslims, who migrated to Pakistan, were still called ‘mohajirs’ (displaced people), he said adding in India the present generation does not even know that Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan who came here were once called ’sharanarthi’ (refugees).
Mr. Abdullah, in his speech, said India is ready for dialogue with separatists leaders but will never accept their demand for secession. “Enough is enough,” he said adding bloodshed must end for the lasting peace in the subcontinent.
The Union Minister said that he would welcome any solution to the Kashmir problem within the framework of Indian Constitution. “I will not stick to even our autonomy demand if that can bring peace to the valley,” he said.
Mr. Geelani should not forget that Kashmir was not about Muslims alone but also comprised Hindus, Buddhists and Christians.
The Minister also questioned what Pakistan Geelani is talking about where moderates like Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, were killed and murderers welcomed with strong slogans in his favour.
Mr. Geelani said when he talked about Kashmir, he meant the entire state and not just the valley.
Reiterating the demand for right to self-determination and “freedom from India’s forcible occupation of Kashmir”, Mr. Geelani said the government has to fulfil Jawaharlal Nehru’s promise for a plebiscite in 1947.
Mr. Geelani talked about the alleged excesses by the security forces against the people of Kashmir and the stone pelters who were killed.
Mr. Geelani, who did not face any hostile situation unlike on an earlier similar occasion here last year, was, however, booed at when he said that Kashmiri pandits were asked to leave under a conspiracy.
“They (pandits) were told that you leave the valley as you do every winter and come back after 3-4 months while we take care of this movement,” the Hurriyat leader said.
The 81-year-old leader was later whisked away through back entrace once the session ended.