What made Syed Ali Shah Geelani popular in Kashmir?

Geelani had a mass support in Kashmir | Photo: PTI

The senior Kashmir Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani died at his home in Srinagar on September 1 amid tight police presence. His death marked the end of an era of politics in Kashmir that refused to bow down before the government of India over the political future of the erstwhile state. 

Auqib Javeed | TwoCircles.net

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SRINAGAR —  In 2018, when late Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai—a top separatist leader in Kashmir was asked by this reporter in an interview that whether there will be any leadership crises if Syed Ali Geelani dies, he had this to say: “Only time will decide that. When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) passed away, Hazrat Umar Farooq, in an emotional speech, said, “Whosoever says Prophet Muhammad has passed away, I will cut his head off.” But Abu Bakr Sidiq read a Quranic verse which translates, “Muhammad is no more than a Messenger; many were the Messengers that passed away before him. If he died or was slain, will you then turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah; but Allah will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude. So, Allah is there to create another Geelani. He is not bound to anyone.”

Sehrai was a long-time friend and lieutenant of the top separatist leader Geelani who died on September 1.

The 91-year-old died at his home in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, where he was under house arrest for the last 11 years.

He was buried in a tightly controlled pre-dawn ceremony on September 2 as the authorities imposed a security lockdown and communication lockdown.

Scores of journalists who rushed toward his residence at midnight were stopped close to his residence and weren’t allowed to proceed further or cover the funeral.

His family alleged that police arrived at their residence and forcibly snatched Geelani’s body and buried him in a local graveyard, some 200 meters away from his Hyderpora residence – against the leader’s wishes who wanted to be buried in the “Martyrs” Graveyard, Kashmir’s largest cemetery situated nearly 9 kilometres away from Geelani’s home.

However, the Jammu and Kashmir Police rejected the claims and said they “felicitated the funeral.”

“Police facilitated in bringing the dead body for the house to the graveyard as there was apprehension that miscreants might take undue advantage of the situation. Relatives participated in last rites,” Inspector General of police in Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, who oversaw the whole operation during the night, tweeted.

His death a “headache” for the state
For years, the state and its agencies were on their toes and were “preparing” to deal with the situation that would arise with the death of the senior-most Hurriyat leader.

Soon after the news broke of his death, the authorities snapped the mobile and internet connections and by 11 p.m. all the roads leading towards Hyderpora were sealed.

The personnel of Jammu and Kashmir Police including Special Operations Group (SOG) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were deployed, who had set up barbed wire and barricades in the city.

“His death and the subsequent funeral was a headache for the state because it might have led to a law and order situation,” a top police official said.

Scores of armoured vehicles and trucks patrolled main roads in the area. Police appealed for people not to venture out on the streets.

Kashmir Police chief Vijay Kumar said the internet was shut down as a precautionary measure and restrictions imposed in the Kashmir valley.

At around 4 a.m., Geelani was laid to rest in a quiet funeral organized by authorities, amid tight security and restrictions with mobile connectivity remained snapped across Kashmir.

Funeral plans when Geelani was alive
Over the year, the rumours of his death circulated several times. In February 2020, internet connections were snapped after the rumours of his death were circulated on social media networks. In December 2020, rumours again circulated of his death.

In January 2020. the authorities came up with a ‘G-Plan’ to brace itself for any eventuality following multiple rumours of the Hurriyat leader’s death.

Geelani was suffering from multiple ailments. According to the doctors treating him, he has undergone major surgeries for his heart and kidney conditions in the past. In the last few years, his weak lungs prevented him from venturing outside after winter set in.

Geelani was an ideologue and a proponent of the merger of J&K with Pakistan. Geelani, who joined the socio-religious Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) as a young boy, contested Assembly elections from his native Sopore in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district in the 1970s.

However, describing the Assembly elections of 1987 as “rigged”, he founded a separatist movement in the 1990s and his ideas influenced both the people on the streets and the fast-growing militant cadre.

He strongly opposed any dialogue with New Delhi, a position rejected outright by successive Indian governments who often dubbed him as a hardline politician.

What made Geelani popular?
Observers believe that his views on Kashmir were clear and he remained steadfast on his stand throughout his life.

“He was known as a hardliner because he didn’t compromise on his stand. Even the Government persecuted him throughout his life to bring him down but he never backed off,” said a political analyst from Srinagar.

He says his acceptance among the people and especially in youth made him the most popular leader from the pro-freedom camp. The popularity of the slogan “Hum Pakistani hain, Pakistan humara hai (We are Pakistanis and Pakistan is ours)” among pro-Pakistan constituencies in Kashmir is largely attributed to Geelani.

His rallies in any part of Kashmir would witness the participation of thousands of people, who would listen to his speech for hours.

Opposed Musharraf’s four-point formula
Geelani opposed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula (to resolve the Kashmir issue), which he considered as a compromise, given Geelani has always advocated J&K merger with Pakistan.

Over the years, he stressed non-violent means to achieve this political goal. From time to time he gave shutdown calls as a mark of protest and people would largely follow that.

Geelani was also the face of Kashmir’s civilian defiance against Indian rule. He led a faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a conglomerate of various Kashmiri political and religious groups that was formed in 1993 to spearhead a movement for the region’s right to self-determination.

He always rejected any notion of direct talks with the New Delhi government unless it formally ‘accepts Kashmir as a disputed territory’ and stopped describing the region as an ‘integral part of India’.

His long and precarious journey for the legitimate cause of Kashmiris started well before his formal political career which started from the platform of Jamaat-e-Islami in 1952. He soon rose to become district chief of the Kupwara and Baramulla districts.

Observers believe that Syed Ali Geelani death will only solidify his legacy. “The ideology that he believed in and people following it will never die,” he said.

“Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dismantled the whole separatist structure, these ideas will never fade away,” another political observer told TwoCircles.net.