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In Geelani’s Death, Kashmir Loses Its Biggest Separatist, India A Back-Channel

Separatist leader and Hurriyat Conference member Syed Ali Shah Geelani died on September 1.

File photograph of late separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani (Photo Credit: PTI)

IN HIS death, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the hardliner, pro-Pakistan leader, who was among the tallest separatist leaders till he was upstaged by the likes of Burhan Wani and Masrat Alam, leaves behind a fractured legacy.

Fractured, because the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), whose most prominent faction he led, is in complete disarray and rudderless. The former three-time MLA and Jamaat-e-Islami leader, on whose one call Kashmir would shut down for days, has left without ever trying to build a line of succession.

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Many might accuse him of being just like most mainstream politicians when it came to a succession plan: toy with the idea of their own kin succeeding them when the time came to step aside or a vacuum was created due to death.

Since 2013, when he first started showing signs of being seriously unwell, Kashmir has witnessed a debate on who would eventually succeed Geelani. Yesterday, when he passed away, there was still no successor on the horizon.

Many would argue, now that separatist conglomerate APHC has lost its standing among common masses in Kashmir and is not even taken seriously by the Central government and its agencies, there isn’t a need to anoint one.

On a warm October afternoon in 2001, I, then a young reporter for Hindustan Times, met Geelani at his room in a Jammu hotel. The local CID (intelligence wing of J&K Police) chaps were keeping tabs on who all were meeting him.

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Possibly because he had nothing better to do, he decided to humour a rookie like me by answering my questions on everything under the sun.

“No, Kashmir isn’t a religious struggle,” he insisted, adding, “If that was the case, Muslims in other parts of the country would be supporting it.”

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Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Separatist Leader And Hurriyat Conference Member Died on September 1, 2021 (PTI Photo)

I also asked him why he expected children of ordinary Kashmiris to heed his call and send their children to join the so-called freedom struggle while his own children were undergoing their education in the relatively-safe, environs of Pakistan. “I have never forced anyone to join the struggle. It is all voluntary,” was his one-line response.

And, finally: What was his endgame? After all, even a rookie like me understood that India would never allow Kashmir to secede or anything of that sort.

He didn’t offer a straightforward answer, only saying, “Aap dekh lena. Waqt aane do (You wait and watch. Let time come).”

When Omar Abdullah was J&K Chief Minister, Geelani fell ill and everyone thought he would die. Knowing fully well that he was one leader whose writ still ran in most parts of Kashmir, the Centre asked the Omar Abdullah government to provide best possible medical assistance to the separatist.

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“Agar isko kuch ho gaya to baat kisse karenge? (If something happens to him (Geelani), who will we talk to,” was the gist of the message from the nervous mandarins of the Indian security establishment. He was shifted to AIIMS, New Delhi, for treatment.

But, unable to decide on his successor, Geelani was soon to lose relevance, if not completely then at least much of it, in Kashmir. The months-long summer agitation of 2010 was possibly the last time his writ ran on which way the youth of Kashmir turned. It was all downhill thereafter. As old age mellowed him and he softened his anti-India stance, younger, more aggressive leaders like Burhan Wani upstaged him as the face of the so-called Kashmir struggle.

Even after Wani’s death, ordinary Kashmiris, possibly unsure of Geelani’s ability to lead, started following faceless and, often, nameless leaders, who routinely led the stone-throwing.

Now that he is gone, Kashmir, quietly restive since August 2019 when the Parliament amended Article 370 to take away the special status accorded to the erstwhile state, has been left without its most prominent separatist voice who could also talk to the Indian leadership without compromising his own standing among the ordinary Kashmiris.

Maneesh Chhibber is a Consulting Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author. 

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