Obituary | Syed Ali Shah Geelani: A pro-Pak. ideologue who witnessed Kashmir’s chequered history

Syed Ali Shah Geelani passed away on September 1 night.   | Photo Credit: AP

The political career of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani (1929-2021) spanned over six decades. He was a witness to all the critical phases of Jammu and Kashmir’s tumultuous history — the accession of J&K to India in 1947, the dethroning of then Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah in 1953, the ascension of Jamaat-e-Islami in 1970s, the rise of armed rebellion of 1990s, the secret dialogue in the 2000s on Kashmir and the end of J&K’s special constitutional position in 2019.

The history Geelani witnessed may be chequered but his ideology, accession to Pakistan, remained linear, single-point and unwavering, to the chagrin of many dispensations in both India and Pakistan.

Geelani was elected thrice as a Member of the Legislative Assembly from his bastion Sopore in north Kashmir since the 1970s but opposed electoral politics as a means to address the Kashmir problem after the 1990s. His outlook was shaped by the literature of Islamist ideologue Maulana Maududi and poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, about whom he wrote around 20 books. Though junior to many Jamaat patrons, Geelani fast emerged as an uncompromising ideologue and proponent of J&K’s accession with Pakistan.

From CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury to lawyer Ram Jethmalani, Geelani befriended top political leaders and backchannel players of both India and Pakistan but refused to show any flexibility when the conversations revolved around shunning the United Nations Resolutions passed on Kashmir and accepting “realistic” solutions. His adversaries disliked his politics but admired his resolute stand.

Born in Sopore’s Zoori Munz village, which still has ‘tonga’ (horse-driven cart) service in vogue, Geelani’s speeches and public appearances catapulted him to the centre-stage in the 1990s when armed rebellion broke out.

Influence among youth

Riding high on his growing influence among youth in Kashmir, Geelani could afford to part ways with his mother organisation Jamaat later to set up his own separatist group Tehreek-e-Hurriyat in 2003, separate from Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led Hurriyat over unconditional engagement with the Centre and oppose Pervez Musharraf’s Four-Point formula. He also faced a backlash from the Musharraf regime for his stand.

Spearheading many street agitations from 2008 to 2016 and drafting protest calendars that ran a parallel government in Kashmir for many months, Geelani’s refusal to open the doors to the 27-member parliamentarians in 2016, when the Valley was embroiled for several months in street agitation after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani, was seen as unforgivable contempt by many in Delhi.

House detention

Since then his house detention, which had already been a norm from 2008 to enervate his ability to galvanise masses on the streets, was made tougher and only close family members had access to him. Jailed several times since 1960s, the ailing Geelani was surviving on a pace-maker, half-a-kidney and suffered major lung problems. Of late, he suffered from dementia too. Very little is known about how he felt on August 5, 2019 when the Centre ended J&K’s special constitutional position. His frequent statements slowly dried up after August.

Just 11 months after the Centre’s move, Geelani’s sudden decision to resign from Hurriyat surprised all. The resignation was his last bid to express anger at Pakistan and his own leaders’ failure to respond to the Centre’s August 5 move.

For sure, Geelani, once a mass leader in the Valley, died in isolation. He may not have died a happy man. Though he succeeded in leaving behind a political legacy of hawkish and uncompromising politics, which many will be vying to follow. Whether the presence of Geelani was a safety valve in Kashmir or his absence will prove more dangerous, only time will tell. With no number two in his faction, who would fill Geelani’s shoes and the leadership vacuum he left behind remains to be seen.

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 12:53:30 AM |

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