THE death of the separatist patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani has brought a long political era in Kashmir to an end. Geelani was active in politics for over six decades. He started his politics as the protégé of Maulana Mohammad Sayeed Masoodi, a senior National Conference (NC) leader. But he was soon drawn to Jama’at-e-Islami, the socio-religious organisation that in its heyday through seventies and eighties was the only rival to the National Conference which during this period enjoyed a virtual political monopoly in Kashmir and Jammu. Geelani later became the Jama’at’s most well-known and charismatic leader – albeit, he never rose to become the party’s chief. He was the only Jama’at leader who was elected to J&K Assembly for three successive terms from his constituency in Sopore.
However, the most important phase of Geelani’s long political innings started after 1989 when the militancy erupted in Kashmir. For the next three decades, he was one of Kashmir’s most influential political voices. Frequently, he would set the political agenda and the discourse. His approach over the years became more hardline. He was for dialogue with New Delhi but before that wanted the centre to acknowledge Kashmir as a disputed territory. He also sought involvement of Pakistan as a party in a trilateral dialogue process. And to top it all, he also rejected any new settlement proposals on Kashmir and insisted on United Nations resolutions on Kashmir to be the starting point for any initiative on Jammu and Kashmir. And for this reason, he didn’t even support the former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s Four Point Proposals for the resolution of Kashmir. The proposals unveiled in 2006 had set out a four stage incremental process for Kashmir resolution. The steps were: identification of the regions in Kashmir for solution, demilitarization, self governance and a joint management or a consultative mechanism between India and Pakistan on the former state. But Geelani would have none of it.
There is a significant section of population in the Kashmir Valley who sympathised with his stance. But to some, he sounded increasingly impractical. His rigidness was partly rooted in the Kashmir history of the last seven decades: Being one among the last of the major political leaders in Kashmir who was of 1947 stock, Geelani traced Kashmir’s ongoing troubled state of affairs to the Partition. He championed a maximalist political solution for Kashmir and defied Musharraf when the latter chose to explore a flexible settlement. However, while Musharraf, for this very reason had marginalized his role in separatist politics in Kashmir by turning his back on him, the successive dispensations in Islamabad restored Pakistan’s relations with him.
But after New Delhi withdrew Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status on August 5, 2019, Geelani wasn’t allowed to get his message across to the people. Subsequently his deteriorating health further reduced his ability to connect with the people. He died a lonely death, made lonelier by the government’s refusal to let him be buried at Martyrs’ Graveyard, according to his wish, lest this touch off a mass protest across Kashmir Valley. Geelani’s passing has left a huge void in Kashmir’s politics. And there’s no telling if and how this vacuum would be filled.
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