Recently, a columnist friend posed a question about the future leadership of the Kashmir’s popular movement. No doubt all movements need a symbolic head as a leader but that should not be an end to itself.

It is more important to understand and follow the ideology and convictions which the leader represents than to turn that person into an end in itself regardless of the fact whether he remains steadfast on his declared convictions or not. No one can deny the fact that Syed Ali Shah Geelani has become an unflinching and uncompromising symbol of Kashmir’s resistance after umpteen somersaults by other leaders.

However, the greatest misfortune Kashmir’s movement for emancipation has faced right from the start is the development and encouragement of a personality cult. The promotion of a personality cult to the extremity of virtually worshipping a person destroys the very movement. Having been ruled for centuries by Kings and Queens-both native and foreign-the local people have developed a love for a ruler or a leader with a distinct personality. Also because of our ancient Hindu past, idol worship is in our blood. Even after following the basic Islamic teachings for over eight centuries which totally negate idol worship, we have not given the trait up!

One could say that we Kashmiris did not truly convert to Islam but adopted some of the Islamic teachings to our traditional centuries’ old Hindu lifestyle. Some have even alleged Kashmiri Muslims to be ‘worshippers of the dead’ as we turn every grave into a shrine! Ironically, the only dead person being guarded round the clock by the security forces is the Kashmir’s tallest leader, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah!

There can be no two opinions about the Sheikh being the most important rather the tallest leader of Kashmir in the recent times. He was thrown up by the first historical movement for basic rights started by Kashmiris in 1931 against the Dogra Maharaja. This was the first major awakening after centuries of subjugation by outside rulers.

As Professor Joseph Korbel, a former chairman of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) and father of Dr. Madeleine Albright who served as the first woman Secretary of State in the US, records in his book-Danger in Kashmir--- the Sheikh rose like a morning star on the sky of Kashmir.

He became a symbol of Kashmir’s resistance and people idolized him. He was given the title of ‘Sher-i-Kashmir’ or the ‘Lion of Kashmir’ Virtually he gave the same hope to Kashmiris as Moses had given to the Israelites in Egyptian bondage. People even rumoured certain divine attributes to him. It was rumoured that his name had been carved by insects on Chinar leaves!

Towards the fag end of his political life, people even chanted, “Alle Kari Wangan Kari, Bab Kari, Bab Kari!” This extreme personality cult wherein the people put everything in the hands of a tall leader resulted in Kashmir’s undoing! Due to certain inherent human weaknesses he could not become the Moses for Kashmiris and very unfortunately led them from the pillar to the post and in the end abandoned them in total wilderness out of which they are still trying to come out.

In spite of his umpteen somersaults, people would have forgiven him but the 1975 episode completely ended his charismatic leadership. In spite of the final somersault, people still loved him especially because of his revolutionary act of land to the tiller. Some people opine that towards the end he was really fatigued and died a sad person! Dr. Korbel likens his fall to that of a meteor!

Omar Mukhtar of Libya too was a teacher and as tall as the Sheikh but he preferred hangman’s noose to a compromise with Italians which led his people ultimately to freedom. There have been other leaders like Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse Tung, Ahmed Ben Bella, and Fidel Castro who led their people to final emancipation.

Such leaders are now a rarity. Ironically, most of the present leaders end up with dynastic succession and nepotism. In view of this, it is more prudent for people to have a collective leadership following a clear ideology based on sound convictions. If the goal is clear and the way is well defined, it does not matter who is in the lead at a particular point in time.If he falters, he can be replaced without any hassle!

However, the most important point right now is not who should be future symbolic leader but what in concrete terms is the goal and what is the definite and clear road map to reach that goal.

If the goal is total emancipation called “Azadi”, then in what shape can that “Azadi” be attained and how? Again, if it is the common goal then why a couple of dozen parties with a dozen leaders with highly bloated individual egos?

Incidentally, while the popular movement leaders and their parties are competing with each other, their main opponent is allegedly integrating the land of Kashmir and all the important institutions one by one through the tunnel of Article 370 which according to a BJP leader would be scrapped in 2017! Allegedly, some of the security bunkers’ walls carry the message, “We need land of Kashmir and not the Kashmiris!”Thus, the need of the hour is collective leadership with one clearly defined goal with a visible road map to reach that goal rather than one more towering leader!