Why Mehbooba Must Thank Geelani

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Kashmir’s veteran separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani is finally a changed man. The hawk has softened his stand, he is a dove in the making. The champion of hartal politics nowadays avoids giving strike calls even against “cold-blooded murder of Kashmiri youth by Indian forces”.

Much against the perception of a section of the media that the government has intensified crackdown on separatists, Geelani’s anti-India rallies enjoy government cover, if not patronage.

On June 12, when Geelani hosted a seminar titled “Proposed Separate Colonies and Ambiguous Policies of the Government” at his Hyderpora residence, the chances of government giving the go-ahead looked bleak initially.

Behind the pessimism were two reasons.

One, ahead of the seminar, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman, Muhammad Yasin Malik, who has been striving for separatist unity in the wake of controversies surrounding the proposed allotment of land to outsiders, was put behind bars. Two, the seminar date coincided with the controversial Abhinav Gupt Yatra that was banned by the state government.

To everybody’s surprise, however, Geelani’s seminar got the green signal. The Valley’s influential daily, Greater Kashmir reported: “Unlike previous events at Hurriyat (G) headquarters, the government allowed the seminar amid massive deployment of police around the venue.”

The seminar was called to discuss controversies surrounding the setting up of a Sainik Colony, separate townships for Pandits and construction of shelters for the non-local population in Kashmir, as proposed by the ruling PDP-BJP alliance. The seminar concluded with pro-Geelani sloganeering.

Though, the old man’s charisma has had his followers through the years. Just a day after Geelani’s seminar, a Kashmiri man died in a shootout. The government said Tanveer Ahmed Sheikh of Bemina was a militant who died at the hands of the police in Udhampur district. Rubbishing the government claims as “baseless”, Geelani termed it a “cold-blooded murder”. 

However, his statement was not accompanied by a call for hartal. “We usually observe shutdown to register our protest against these kinds of tragedies, but in the view of holy month of Ramzan this option was not adopted,” said the leader, who, six years ago, had forced people to observe fasting during shutdowns, when over 120 people died in street protests.

So what has changed Geelani?

Reasons look to be nothing beyond his rumoured affinity with the PDP – something which was authenticated last year by former spymaster AS Dulat. In 2015, the former RAW chief in his memoir, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years revealed that the PDP was the brainchild of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and Geelani alike. “Both of them are ‘Pirs’, who are groups of families from whom Kashmir gets its religious preachers, and that explains their proximity,” Dulat said.

While the Muftis and Geelani are Pirs, the same holds true for government spokesman and education minister, Syed Naeem Akhter Andrabi. Last month, at a government function, Akhter publicly hailed Geelani.

According to Greater Kashmir, on May 24, the lawmaker praised the Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman for his contribution in education sector, saying, “Geelani Sahib has educated youth in Sopore.”

But unlike Geelani, other senior separatist leaders are facing the government’s wrath. While Muhammad Yasin Malik has been sent to the Central Jail in Srinagar for the umpteenth time, in the last two months, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has opened another front, this time against the moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

In an apparent reference to Hurriyat (M) chairman, who is the head priest of Kashmir and gives sermons after Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid, the chief minister on June 22 said, “It was not for the preachers to look after the special provisions of the Constitution with regard to the state but for the mainstream political parties.”

A day later, Mirwaiz hit back at her saying that the religious leadership of Kashmir would “never remain silent on the problems of people” and that his pulpit would uphold the fire in the belly. In the restive Valley, where a mere spark is enough to lead to a major agitation, Kashmir is exceptionally calm this time around. Mehbooba has braved multiple challenges as Geelani seems to be by her side.

Though it may not be the real life adaptation of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Geelani continues to hold the key to public sentiment. Hope better sense continues to prevail in all regimes. But then Mehbooba must thank Geelani. 

 

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