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Syed Ali Shah Geelani: The Saga Of A Headstrong Leadership

Anyone who doubts the advocacy of Geelani in his political dialogue for his support to the determination of the Kashmiris on streets, would find the suspicion baseless to cut a piece of today’s emergence without rooting on the options which have lost its credibility long back.


For Kashmir, the irreplaceable void that Syed Ali Shah Geelani has left on the first of September 2021 will continue to persist as one other wound over many. Undoubtedly It will add up another chapter in the annals of Kashmir’s unfulfilled promises. The thousands who peacefully assembled the streets to listen their leader’s determined voice know that the forced veiling of his presence in the valley for six years and the rest hitherto has never wavered his vision for Kashmir. He was permitted to appear in public in 2014 after he had been incarcerated under house since 2008.

The hasty burial, the denial of his last wish to be buried in the Martyrs graveyard were unperturbedly addressed by the authorities but exactly as anticipated by his family members, including the arrest of Geelani’s sons. The imposing of UAPA came as soon as police sources reported that his family members were found raising Pro Pakistan slogans.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani served as the chairperson of All Parties Hurriyat Conference(APHC), an alliance of Kashmiri Political, social and religious organizations and founded Tehreek-i-Hurriyat from which he stepped down in June 2020. He has been a headstrong leader for the rights of his people and although he had Pro-Pakistan sentiments, Geelani never allowed the sentiments to interfere with the decision of Kashmiris. Geelani could empathize with their sufferings rather than leaning towards any national interests, he stood for their rights. No wonder why because of the same reason he received heart filled affection and respect from Kashmiris all over. He was an adamant leader who severely criticized the human rights violations in the Indian administered valley. 

The Hawk of the valley.

As an eminent and influential political leader of an ideological campaign and the harbinger of Hurriyat Conference, Geelani’s stance was never unshaken and his defiant voice had always answered Kashmir’s right to choose their future, with Pakistan.

It is inevitable to look back to the unanswered promises of plebiscite at this juncture and also because Geelani would have himself started all over again even in his senile soft voice reminding the 1947 discrepancy even after 7 decades and reinstating the denial of Kashmir’s right which was vowed by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Mediated with an interlocution of the UN, the right was the promise to count on a plebiscite in which the people of Kashmir themselves will choose who has to administer them.

Geelani’s 5 point formula to the Indian Government in 2018 was also notably received in the valley to which Omar Abdullah, the then chief minister of Jammu&Kashmir coalition heeded. Geelani demanded that for any dialogue processes with the government has to take place, India should accept Kashmir as UN-recognized ‘dispute land’.

His 5 conditions included- India should accept Kashmir an international disputed land, begin demilitarisation in the state under the supervision of a credible world agency, repeal all harsh laws, including Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act (AFSPA), release all political prisoners and punish the forces’ personnel involved in the killings which took place across the Valley since June. He also wanted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to publicly commit and ensure no further killings do take place.

He was imprisoned in 1962 for the first time and his constant demands for implementing UN Security Council Resolutions relating to Kashmir had cost him straight 22 years of his life behind the bars from 1965. He had been incarcerated in the prisons of Kashmir and other parts of India thereafter.

He strongly advocated for freedom from the Indian administration, outrightly calling it an ‘occupation’. But at the same time, he conveyed in an interview to NewsX that they don’t favour a merger with Pakistan but would rather prefer security, foreign power, finance and at the same time with their internal autonomy bestowed upon Kashmir. “We have witnessed India’s attitude for 63 years constantly and we have bitter experiences from Indian forces. We cannot prefer any more. India must accept the hard reality that Kashmir is a disputed land and we will decide our future. He had said.

Geelani wanted the UN to take control of Kashmir if Indian forces withdraw and preferred a round table gathering of representatives from all political positions to decide their future for an egalitarian system.

The Leader who never succumbed to political disrespect.

Gowhar Geelani, a Kashmiri Journalist and author of ‘Kashmir, Rage and Reason’ had interviewed Syed Geelani for several times. He remembers how hospitable and warm was Geelani and his nature has always been calm and patient. “He was very clear about the ideology which he has been working on for the last 30 years and the unfinished agenda of partition. So even when hard questions are posed against, he is least to get angry.” Geelani used to take part with all shades of opinions and views but he did not ridicule anyone for their political positions.

He had always engaged in meaningful and respectful conversations. Geelani believed in the decision of the people and it is for this moment that he has been fighting- ‘When people are asked for their decision.’ Geelani was always ready to accept the results that the people will choose for themselves. Even if Kashmir, wants to stay as an independent entity, Geelani would agree with people’s verdict and this was his stand all through.

And unquestionably this is what makes him different from all other political leaders, and had occupied a very close space in the heart of Kashmir.

Gowhar Geelani recollects that Syed Geelani opposed Pakistan’s four point formula which set aside UN resolution measures and called for a joint supervision mechanism by both India and Pakistan. Geelani had addressed this by remarking “Musharaff has lost his mind”. Which visibly counts that Geelani was a leader who never succumbed to any country’s interference without accepting what the UN has already ensured for Kashmir.

“Geelani never used impolite remarks or makes unhealthy debates with his political rivalries and he will always stand apart for that”.(Gowhar Geelani).  He rejected all road maps proposed in the four point formula and was not ready to accept the idea of dividing Jammu&Kashmir on communal grounds.

Even his approach to Kashmiri Pandits is inevitable to be mentioned. For Geelani, Kashmiri Sikhs, Muslims and Pandits are different organs of the same human body which without any one of them cannot function properly (Vullar kināre- autobiography). Being taught by a Kashmiri Pandit from his childhood, Geelani firmly believed that Kashmiri society is incomplete without them.

Geelani and the New Azadi

After a conspicuous shift from the militancy decade of resistance mechanism, the most chanted slogan, ‘‘Go India, Go Back’’ was first raised in 2009 when Geelani and his supporters were arrested. This subsequently paved way for the emergence of ‘New Azadi’ as people raised their demands on the streets bare-chested, against the armed forces. “Peace is not in our hands. Peace is in the hands of India.” He said. Geelani used to distribute calendars protests on whose words the youth followed the streets devoid of arms, chanting slogans for their rights.

Anyone who doubts the advocacy of Geelani in his political dialogue for his support to the determination of the Kashmiris on streets, would find the suspicion baseless to cut a piece of today’s emergence without rooting on the options which have lost its credibility long back.

When the 1987 elections was defrauded at the verge of All Party MUF (Muslim United Front) despite having 31 % share of vote and expected to win 20% more than the opposition of the 43 electoral constituencies, he outrightly said “Those who do not have the right to be elected, cannot decide on accession”. The MUF was a conglomerate of 23 social and political organizations.

The UNSC Resolution of January 1957 had already rejected the declaration by the J&K assembly and had reaffirmed that the future of J&K is yet to be determined in accordance with earlier UN Resolutions. He opined that for any meaningful dialogue process should take place between New Delhi and Kashmir, India should first accept that Kashmir is a disputed land.

Even when Geelani fought elections to which there was no transparency for justice, he was able to enjoin the trust of Kashmiris. He was with the people whom he saw have no other option but to live under the fear of death and surveillance. So why not face it in the streets?

But what is worth without mentioning other than this is his advice for the New Azadi seeking generation. “Do not raise provocative slogans, wherever you are sit there and don’t react. This was what Geelani Sahb said.”(Gowhar Geelani). For Geelani, the thrust was always for discipline and not resentment.

The New Azadi saw Kashmiri youth in campuses and on streets creating graffiti, songs and raps against the forces under which they were forced to be claustrophobic. They started talking about their ‘Unfulfilled promise’ of plebiscite. They widely wrote poems and recorded their lives and the pain into words and music. He stressed on talks involving the true representatives of Kashmir and the governments of both India and Pakistan for genuine and meaningful sit ins.

He believed that the people of this region have a shared destiny and the choice is either swim or sink together. He was debarred from offering Friday prayers, the days which always witnessed his presence as an impetus for resistance. Geelani’s forced confinement had deteriorated his health but not his spirit. For the past 5 years, he has been suffering from dementia but his followers still remember him quoting Allama Iqbal trying to confront their hopeless countenances and giving them the faith to a fearless future.