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POST TIME: 5 September, 2021 11:12:36 PM
DATELINE INDIA: Not in peace even in death
For good reason because as long as he lived, Syed Ali Shah Geelani was clearly anti-India and did what it took to demean, demonize and destabilize it. While India decried Geelani and his misdeeds, Pakistan mourned the departed man. Not only did it announce flying the national flag at half-mast but also declared a state mourning for a day.
Kumkum Chadha

DATELINE INDIA: Not in peace even in death

Divisive in life and divisive in Death: there could be no better way to describe separatist Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani who passed away at the ripe age of 92 years earlier this week. 

Geelani was diagnosed with renal cancer in 2007 and in 2018 he suffered a minor heart attack. Just before his end came he reportedly developed breathing issues. Geelani was under house arrest at his Hyderpora residence on the outskirts of Srinagar city.  

Health issues had plagued the beleaguered leader since long wherein he had undergone several surgeries. However, till a few years his spirit refused to give in; and even though physically weak Geelani did not give up on the “cause” of freedom of Kashmir. 

However, his definition of freedom was dramatically different from the conventional one. 

In Geelani’s scheme of things, Kashmir’s freedom was the region’s merger with Pakistan. 

A hard-liner, better described “a hawk”, Geelani was a hated figure among Indian nationalists. Therefore, in his Death there were no tears shed for him in India. If anything he was despised, rather hated to put it mildly. Credence is lent to this by the fact that after his death, media channels described him as a “creature” a term rarely used for the dead at least in this part of the world.  

As is the norm, the dead, however, unpopular they may be, are given a quiet send-off. There are not many cases where their misdeeds, and Geelani had a long list from the Indian perspective, are recounted. But in his case an exception was made and his “send-off” was less a tribute and more a condemnation. And for good reason because as long as he lived, Geelani was clearly anti-India and did what it took to demean, demonize and destabilize it. 

While India decried Geelani and his misdeeds, Pakistan mourned the departed man. Not only did it announce flying the national flag at half-mast but also declared a state mourning for a day. 

To quote, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan: “Deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Kashmiri freedom fighter Syed Ali Geelani who struggled all his life for his people & their right to self-determination. He suffered incarceration & torture by the occupying Indian state but remained resolute,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a tweet.

“We in Pakistan salute his courageous struggle & remember his words: ‘Hum Pakistani hain aur Pakistan Humara hai’.The Pakistan flag will fly at half-mast and we will observe a day of official mourning,” Khan said in another tweet.

Under the circumstances, India and Indians loathing the “creature” is understandable and justified. There can be no case for accommodating separatists views and that too which are intensely pro-Pakistan within the national realm of the country. Anyone who Pakistan chooses to honour cannot be India’s friend: In 2020, Geelani was awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan, Pakistan's highest civilian honour.

A legislator for more than 15 years, Geelani was representing Jamaat-i-Islami - a major political-religious organisation in Kashmir, which was banned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government in 2019. 

As one who was accused of propagating armed resistance against Indian rule of J&K and its merger with Pakistan, Geelani was in the eye of a storm for inciting violence and putting his own politics and personal gain above those who followed him. Pitch this against the prosperity of his own family versus his followers and the picture is clear and complete. 

Born in 1929, in the same month that he died, read September, Geelani was born in a village in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district. If reports are anything to go by, his father Peer Shah Geelani, was a poor labourer.  

He went to a local school and later studied in a college in Lahore. 

Groomed in politics by Maulana Mohammad Syed Masoodi, a National Conference leader, he later parted ways to join Jamaat-e-Islami. 

Before becoming fiercely anti Indian, Geelani contested assembly elections and represented north Kashmir’s Sopore constituency thrice in the J&K assembly.

It was in the early nineties that he founded the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a conglomerate of separatist parties opposing New Delhi’s rule in J&K. That too did not last and Geelani soon chartered his own course by floating his own chapter of the Hurriyat Conference after accusing the moderate Sajad Lone of fielding proxy candidates in the 2002 assembly elections.

He formed Tehreek-e-Hurriyat after Jamaat-e-Islami disowned Hizbul Mujahideen, its purported armed wing.

Geelani’s popularity, however, took a hit when, during one such public rally in Srinagar in 2010, with moderate Hurriyat president Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chief Yasin Malik by his side, he asked people to declare him as their undisputed leader, causing fissures among the separatists.

He was known for his strong opposition to any kind of dialogue between India and Pakistan. His take: plebiscite on whether Kashmir should remain under Indian rule should be held before talks could take place.

It was this hardened stance that alienated the younger leadership within his set-up who unlike Geelani wanted a resolution. Geelani, on the other hand, was keen on keeping the pot boiling. His anger was palpable whenever there were signs from Pakistan about building a healthy relationship with India. His face off with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in 2005 is well known over the four point plan to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Geelani’s stance earned him kudos and brickbats which some dubbing him as an “obstructionist” and others seeing him as a strong leader who could stand up to the powers that be. 

During his three decade long tenure in electoral politics, Geelani contested several elections both for the state Assembly and Parliament. He represented Sopore constituency in the Assembly three times. 

Known for giving frequent “bandh calls” Geelani came to be referred as “Bandh or hartal man” in the Kashmir valley. 

As militancy rose in Kashmir between 1993 to 2019, Geelani and his Hurriyat kind of reinvented itself. Young stone pelters hit the streets at their one call. Geelani became the man of the moment and one who was referred as “Mard-e-Momin”, or Man of God by young advocates of azadi, freedom, and willing to lay down their lives at a call. 

As against this, Geelani got flak for creating and glorifying terrorists like Burhan Wani: allegations he scoffed at.  

Speculation was rife when he resigned last year. Some cited health reasons while others interpreted it as anger and “inaction by the Hurriyat members post the abrogation of J&K’s special status and its division into two union territories”.

Loved by Pakistan and hated in equal measure by India, in Geelani’s death Pakistan has lost a friend and India a long time enemy: the word detractor being too mild to use for a divisive and destructive man like Geelani. In some sections within Kashmir there is an attempt to paint him martyr but there is a chargesheet of misdeeds that Indians are willingly flagging to drown the cries of his “martyrdom”. 

Rewind to 2008, when in Kashmir he had declared: “Secularism nahi chalega, nationalism nahi chalega, subaiyat nahi chalega... Yahan sirf aur sirf Islam chalega... Islam ki nisbat se hum Pakistani hain aur Pakistan hamara hai. (Secularism won’t work here, nationalism won’t work here, provincialism won’t work here. The only thing that will work is Islam. Because of the relationship of Islam, we are Pakistani and Pakistan is ours).”

Today much to everyone’s relief, Death has silenced that voice and dementia faded out all that he professed. In his last days there was very little he could remember. 

What could well be a tribute to Geelani is what his granddaughter Ruwa Shah had penned last year when she wrote about her grandfather Geelani: 

“Do not stop me here. It is time I go,” he said in a hushed voice when we once again gathered around him. “You should not be selfish. I am in pain.” And then he closed his eyes and started reciting verses from the Holy Quran. As he was humming “La Ilaha illhala…” he suddenly stopped, raised his hand, and feebly shouted “Allah-u-Akbar!”

Aba dedicated his life to Islam and Kashmir’s freedom struggle. For him, the two have always been inseparable. This is why, even when he barely had the energy to breathe, he was either reciting from the Quran or talking about Kashmir. “Do not give up on freedom. Zulm chu ne poshaan! Oppression does not last!” Aba kept repeating as I spoon-fed him. He kept reciting it to himself, as if he was trying to etch those words to his memory so that he would not forget what he had stood for all his life.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who has spent a life time fighting for Kashmir, and stood tall in the face of endless persecution and abuse, is now fighting physical pain. And, for the first time in his life, he knows he is in a battle he has no way of winning”. 

While one can understand the pain of a grandchild, yet her tears are not enough to wash off the sins of a man who spoke the language of the enemy and dreamt of separating Kashmir from India; a man who only understood strife cannot rest in Peace even in Death.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: ([email protected]