Syed Ali Shah Geelani — the hawk fades into the sunset

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Who is Syed Ali Shah Geelani?

Ninety-year-old Geelani is an ideologue and a proponent of the merger of J&K with Pakistan. Mr. 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.

Also read: Syed Ali Geelani quits Hurriyat Conference

What distinguishes Geelani from other separatist leaders?

Mr. Geelani emerged as a hawk even among the separatists. He trashed all back-channel and Track II talks between New Delhi and Srinagar, and Delhi and slamabad. He decided to split the Hurriyat in 2003 after accusing some of its constituents of fielding proxy candidates in the Assembly elections. The other Hurriyat faction is headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. He also disapproved of the moderate Hurriyat’s attempt to engage New Delhi. He was the only voice within the separatist spectrum that had opposed then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula on Kashmir. He also refused to meet an all-party delegation from Delhi in 2016 and shut his doors on its members under the glare of media cameras.

Is he powerful enough to lead an independent organisation?

Mr. Geelani suffers 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.

With neither the age nor the health on his side to reorganise Hurriyat or reintroduce a new party, his politics, many observers say, is the politics of the deathbed and a wish to die a martyr for his followers who never compromised, whether it was India or Pakistan. He remains an ardent opponent even to the politics of the regional mainstream parties, like the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party.

What does his resignation mean?

Mr. Geelani seems to have resigned from the amalgam of separatist outfits, called Hurriyat. It’s not clear if he has resigned from the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat too, which is headed by his old colleague Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai. The resignation is aimed at both Pakistan and the redundant leadership around him.

In case, he just resigned from the Hurriyat, this gives a chance to Mr. Sehrai and younger leader Masrat Alam to take over the reins of the outfit, which is facing pressure from the loyal cadre on failing to predict the August 5, 2019 amendments and to react to it effectively. But if he resigns from the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, it means he wants to quit active politics and be remembered as a milestone in Kashmir polity: one who safeguarded and nurtured an ideology, which was a mix of nativism and religion.

Is the timing of Geelani’s resignation important?

Yes, he is resigning at a time when the Centre has apparently ended separatist politics with one stroke on August 5, 2019, and succeeded in putting a pressure on them by not allowing them to rally people against the decision to revoke J&K’s special status. His resignation may give a sense of defeat to his own supporters and a boost to the mainstream parties to make inroads into separatist constituencies.

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