“Nothing short of independence or a plebiscite would be acceptable to us”

Chairman of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference Syed Ali Shah Geelani on Friday called for total boycott of next year’s Parliamentary and Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir at a rally in the North Kashmir town of Sopore, 55km from here.

Mr. Geelani chose Sopore, his hometown, for addressing the first rally since he was freed from an eight-month-long house arrest earlier this week. While his followers asserted that over 12,000 people attended the rally, the police claimed 3,500 people had participated. Quite a few of them came from Srinagar, Bandipore and Baramulla.

Carrying green-coloured Islamist flags and shouting secessionist slogans, including pro-Lashkar-e-Taiba and anti-Indian slogans, the separatist leader’s followers pledged to carry on the “freedom struggle” without making any compromises. They even maintained discipline though some of them pelted stones at a CRPF camp at the State Bank of India Complex while dispersing from the town. Using tear gas and charging with batons, paramilitary forces chased them away.

Addressing the gathering at Iqbal Market in Sopore, Mr. Geelani reiterated that Kashmiris would continue their struggle for “freedom” under all circumstances. He asked them to boycott the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections next year “ to convey to the world that nothing short of independence or a plebiscite under U.N. resolutions would be acceptable to us.” He lamented that the U.N. had failed help Kashmiris in their struggle for “freedom.”

Later, Mr. Geelani drove straight to Doabgah village to call on the family members of Afzal Guru, who was hanged to death in February after being convicted in the Parliament attack case of 2001.

While his ancestral home is in Dooru village, Mr. Geelani represented the Jamaat-e-Islami dominated Sopore constituency in the State Assembly for three terms from 1971 to 1989. In the late 1980s, he set up his permanent seat in Hyderpora neighbourhood of Srinagar, where he has lived and has occasionally remained under ‘house arrest’ in the last 24 years.

Mr. Geelani has been formally arrested and detained in different jails and police centres under the Public Safety Act and other special laws for political reasons, including for sedition. In February, he was, for the first time, put under house arrest at his Malviya Nagar residence in New Delhi for about a month for allegedly creating a law and order problem after Afzal Guru’s execution. He stays in New Delhi during the winter.

In March, police surveillance was lifted from his New Delhi home, but he was taken into custody and again put under house arrest on March 7 when he returned to Srinagar. Though he was free to move around on certain occasions — only twice, according to his press secretary Ayaz Akbar — he remained held in his house for about eight months. On Monday, the police suddenly lifted its camp from his residence and he was allowed to move around freely and carry out his political activity.