Geelani Shuts Down Kashmir in Death
I met two persons shortly after I joined journalism, even before I began covering politics properly, who left a distinct impression. One was RSS ideology Govindacharya and the other supposedly his opposite Jamaat ideologue Syed Ali Shah Geelani. I was fascinated enough to meet Govindacharya, simply because he was in Delhi during those days, more than once to try and understand the workings of his ideology. The discussions were interesting, and added to my knowledge immensely about the doctrine that dominated his mind, even as he took the time to answer my most politically incorrect and blunt questions.
What I found interesting in him was that he did not try to push me to his point of view. Nor did he lose his temper when I asked him what professional politicians would have slammed the door on me for. He would laugh, and insisted once that we should continue these talks until he converted me. To which I replied ---and clearly even then with naivety or perhaps brazenness-- “or perhaps until I convert you.” Neither happened but yes the discussions added to my knowledge of the RSS, and through a leader who had a sense of humour and exhibited what I even then thought was interesting tolerance towards a woman journalist who was definitely not --or would ever be---a recipient of his ideology.
My contact with Govindacharya was sporadic after the first burst of meetings. An occasional phone call, a how are you conversation, and nothing really bigger than that.
I met Geelani with other senior journalists and politicians for the first time just after the infamous ‘decade’ of militancy was easing off in Kashmir. Wide Eyed I heard him talk to the seniors, and was not overly impressed, as he seemed to be saying all that one had expected.
I had the occasion to meet him several times later on in life as a journalist for interviews in print and television, as a member of various delegations including politicians and public intellectuals. And observed him closely. He always had an opening statement that never changed, of the numbers of dead, of the ‘occupation’ of Kashmir, of the atrocities etc etc. It was rehearsed and he recited it all as if by rote. A hardline position, not particularly well calibrated, and stated regardless of whether he was meeting the visitor for the first or the umpteenth time.
He came through as a hospitable, gentle person. Very approachable, polite and warm. I knew him better after the ageing process had started, so every visit one found Geelani weaker and yet more resilient. If when went by how he appeared at the meetings it was easy to dismiss him as a fading Hurriyat leader, a bit like a stuck record, hospitable and warm as Kashmiris are, with little influence. He always made time for me, with kahwa and Kashmiri delicacies on the table.
But in reality ---and as someone like Sajad Lone (who unfortunately finished his politics through strange decisions) knows well --Geelani was close to the Pakistani deep state. Was openly pro-Pakistan, had strong differences with Yasin Malik who wanted the independence of Jammu and Kashmir as against Geelani’s insistence to merge with Pakistan, and while he hesitated to praise Pakistan before visitors it was always clear where his sympathies lay.
Interestingly, during the few years when Kashmiris turned away from Pakistan and while demanding independence for the record, were clear in private conversations that a better and more equal relationship with New Delhi would suffice, Geelani never did change his view. The Indian intelligence establishment and military commanders in chief like Lt General Ata Hasnain who started his peoples policy in the Valley, admitted that Pakistan’s follies had created a situation where Kashmir had decided to look away. And Malik’s argument had gained ground, in that independence was more popular than accession to Pakistan. It must be pointed here that the status quo for Kashmiris was not as stated, but an accepted objective, and as our senior intelligence officials at the time did not hesitate to point out, the turning away from Pakistan in itself was a very favourable development.
Geelani suffered a backlash amongst the youth for a while as his pro-Pakistan position was challenged by the aspirational younger generation. I remember I had interviewed Geelani at that time for a television channel where he had in response to a question indicated that he was still in favor of accession to Pakistan. And the comments that we received from young Kashmiris on this were quite scathing, so much so that the ageing leader for the first time stopped articulating this position openly, and in subsequent interviews evaded questions on Pakistan.
The government at that time was unable to move in with a clear understanding of the shifting ground, and to cut a long story short, the mass protests after various decisions by New Delhi gave Geelani a breather. And he stepped into a leadership vacuum by issuing the ‘calendars’ for protest. After the death of over 100 young people in police firing across Kashmir, and the protests, Geelani’s intervention came as a boon to the leaderless youth who needed some direction. He was thus resurrected from virtual oblivion at the time and gained a following amongst young people simply because he was the first leader to step in to take hold of the reins under the Omar Abdullah government in Kashmir.
Significantly, he was never really for talks with Delhi. Expectedly so as his affiliations were with Islamabad. He despised the other Hurriyat leaders for talking to the central government and did not bother to hide this. He would smile, almost sneeringly, at their efforts insisting that nothing would come of this, but sure if they wanted to belittle themselves they were most welcome. New Delhi emissaries were clear that he took his instructions from Pakistan, and was not a free or independent person.
There are common threads between right wing religious ideologies. As all believe one, in theocracy and a theocratic state; two, in supremacy of their own religions; three, intolerance for the other and use of the other to consolidate; four, use of religion in politics; five, use of violence for the end that justifies all means. And so on and so forth, the list can be for another article.
Geelani will be mourned, he is being mourned in Kashmir and as some of the photographs we are carrying here from Basit Zargar, seems to be as feared in death as he was feared in life for reasons that are complicated enough to merit another article. Reports from Kashmir suggest that he was not allowed the respect that in good civilisations is mandatory for those who have died.
All Photographs BASIT ZARGAR of curfew in Srinagar after the passing of Syed Ali Shah Geelani.