‘Geelani was a father figure, a centre of gravity and a measure of morality for resistance politics in more than one way.’
SRINAGAR — The death of nonagenarian Hurriyat patriarch Syed Ali Geelani is being seen as a big setback to the resistance politics in Jammu and Kashmir. There is none within the rank and file of Hurriyat with a capacity to replace Geelani who had decades of experience and a massive following, especially among youth.
Last year, the deceased leader resigned from the Hurriyat Conference faction that he was heading for almost 17 years. The group had been projecting Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, Geelani’s long-time aide, to take over the reins of the amalgam after Geelani. But Sehrai’s death, early this year, was yet another blow to the amalgam.
After Geelani’s resignation from the chairmanship of his faction, nobody was named in his place, though Abdullah Geelani claimed to represent Geelani from Pakistan and rarely issued statements on Twitter.
Geelani, a stalwart and a stubborn leader, represented a mass sentiment that rejected the accession to India. Hurriyat gave a voice to that angst.
But since 2017, particularly after August 5, 2019, it had become difficult for Hurriyat to operate due to the incarcerations of its leaders, the ailing health of Geelani and the aggressive policies of the present regime in New Delhi.
In June 2017, India’s premier investigating agency NIA arrested seven resistance leaders for their alleged role in “creating unrest” in the Kashmir valley. Majority of the leaders were part of Geelani’s amalgam.
Ahead of the infamous decision of August 5, 2019, when the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir state was abrogated, the government arrested hundreds of political activists, mostly those involved in resistance politics. Most of these activists were part of either faction of Hurriyat led by Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
Noor Muhammad Baba, a political analyst said that the voice of Hurriyat has diminished. “With the death of Geelani, and all kinds of representations muzzled, jailed or dead, the bridge between New Delhi and Kashmir is broken. This leaves a pronounced void which is filled with uncertainty.”
Geelani was a father figure, a Centre of gravity and a measure of morality for resistance politics in more than one way, observed Basharat Ali, a scholar of International Studies, Political Violence and Social Movements.
In Geelani’s death ‘we have lost the anchor to which everyone tethered themselves’, Basharat regretted, “It is going to be very difficult to keep the house in order after his passing. He was not just a leader, he was a theorist with a clarity of thought about how and why we need to fight the Indian state for our freedom. That role will be a challenge to execute for anyone in the future.” This also is a problem for the Indian state, Ali said.
Due to the unrelenting onslaught of New Delhi on separatist and mainstream groups and with Geelani’s passing away, Delhi does not have anyone to have a dialogue with. That space is left unpredictable and vulnerable for new players.
In 1975, when Sheikh Abdullah compromised and surrendered before the Indian state, Kashmir was in a state of despair. It was in that state of hopelessness that Syed Ali Geelani steered the movement of mass resistance.
Hurriyat Conference came into being in 1993 but the mobilization of the Kashmiri movement happened long before that. “A leaderless mobilization had proved quite a nuisance for the government of India than a regulated one,” argued Dr Showkat Hussain, a professor of law. “Resistance finds a way to revive itself. Resistance as a deep-rooted sentiment sustains itself and brings new leaders to the surface.”
Dr Hussain said that the future of the Hurriyat Conference depends on the resilience of its leaders but as far as the resistance movement is concerned, it transcends beyond Hurriyat and its leaders.
“Resistance has prevailed through various regimes in Kashmir,” analysed Dr Rashid Maqbool, a senior journalist who has covered Kashmir for the last 13 years. It has had some setbacks but it has always bounced back. The sentiment created leaders like Syed Ali Geelani. The sentiment is engrained in every Kashmiri and it will always find a way to voice the angst of the masses. “We [Kashmiris] are a resilient people. How the resistance politics will shape up in the coming days is uncertain but what is sure is that it will not die,” he said.
Meher Qadri is a former staff writer at the Mountain Ink.