The Dissident Who Closed Door for Delhi in Kashmir
Ever since he shut his door on the Indian parliamentary delegation, the defiant old man was fighting a lonely battle with forgetfulness in his home captivity.
In the wake of Syed Ali Geelani’s quiet farewell, a senior scribe who reported the 2016 summer upheaval recalls his field trip to then seething south. The killing of the popular insurgent — the one who made militancy hip with his social media blitz — had made young boys street enforcers driven by a “death-wish”.
“Peeved about parachute journalists, it was very hard to convince those young lots,” the scribe recounted. “Even the name of Syed Ali Geelani apparently calling for restrain wouldn’t help. To strike some semblance with the seething streets, the leader had even invoked his telephonic conversation with Burhan Wani. But while guarding yet another dissent demonstration, Kashmir’s coming-of-age generation was in no mood to listen.”
Otherwise holding sway on masses, the grand-old man of Kashmir defiance had apparently taken a backseat with the prominence of new dissenters—holding AK-47 and sporting long hairdos—in Kashmir woods.
“And there was a reason why Geelani lost his say from that year,” the scribe explained.
“Because here was the old man mostly shadowed by a rusty police van and a bunch of vigilant cops guarding his Hyderpora residence. He was gradually robbed of the limelight he once enjoyed in media and public circles. Geelani was being silenced and secluded as a fiery rival. And that’s how the state decimated the defiant cult.”
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But in the fall of that year, Geelani was back in the saddle. The ‘fragile figure’ would come out regularly to register his protest and engage the state in the street showdown. He subsequently refused to repeat 2010 when he shut his door for the visiting Indian parliamentary delegation that year.
“His snub to the delegates sent to break the ice with him was taken with a pinch of salt by Modi government,” said a seasoned politician, then part of the “unholy” alliance between PDP and BJP. “Geelani had a history of acting tough and mostly one-man army during his political life. He behaved firmly with Musharraf when the general proposed the 4-Point Formula as his Kashmir solution. But since Modi wasn’t Musharraf, the backlash obscured both the cult and his camp.”
By the time 2016 thawed, Kashmir became a battleground for the newfangled offensive. Those at the receiving end of the street ire came heavily upon the dissenters. At the heart of this hardnosed strategy was the Doval Doctrine’s “offensive defence” policy.
Soon amid the shore up crusade against Article 370, New Delhi unleashed National Investigation Agency (NIA) on the Hurriyat camp. In the sweeping crackdown, the likes of Nayeem Khan, Shabir Shah, Asiya Andrabi and Geelani’s son-in-law and supposedly his “man Friday”, Altaf Shah were rounded off and lodged in Tihar Jail.
“Without touching the Hurriyat headman, Modi government was doing a combing operation on his party and support base,” said the senior scribe. “And once he was reduced to a mere shell, they even removed the board from his Tehreek-e-Hurriyat before sending him off under wraps.”
But mostly, in the last five invasive years of his political life, Geelani in home custody fought his falling health. Dementia—one of the signs of chronic social isolation—was gradually devouring his last bits of memory.
It’s said that when the news of his protégé, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai’s death was conveyed to him, Geelani after a lot of struggle understood that his “Ash Lal” is no more, and wept bitterly over his deputy’s demise.
Those who attended him since 2016—when his group faced belligerent backlash—narrate endless stories of the man’s struggle with his fading mindscape.
“The avid newspaper reader would enquire from his visitors about the latest developments happening around him,” said his diehard who used to visit the ailing ‘rehbar’ quite often. “He was always eager and desperate to understand things happening around him, but the growing surveillance was only isolating the man from his social contacts.”
With his “eyes and ears” under arrest, Geelani’s behind-the-door ordeal proved to be a win-win situation for the state managers denouncing him as an “agent provocateur”.
“After the disintegration of the PDP-BJP alliance in summer 2018, the state agencies acted freely against those who once attended India and Pakistan meetings for the so-called Kashmir cause,” said an SP rank officer.
“Despite being given such a big platform, these men, especially Geelani, were bent to keep Kashmir on the boil. We had studied the man and his methods for years, and knew his strengths and his support base as well. At the end of the day, the dissident was up against the dauntless system. And he was bound to fail in the might is right contest.”
With ruling BJP holding him responsible for the “Kashmir crisis”, Geelani post-2016 was largely rendered “ineffective” and pushed to obscurity. Apart from jailing his aides and advisors, the state also curtailed Hyderpora’s media presence. Newsmen were even barred to attend his outfit’s function, just like his funeral.
“And then age was also not on his side,” the officer said. “But even then the idea was to control the sentimental storm that his death could have potentially triggered.” And for that, many say, waters were tested based on rumours.
But on September 1, 2021, with IGP Vijay Kumar making a quick trip to Hyderpora, all rumours rested. Geelani had died as a home captive, and cops—some of whom had stood at his gates all these years—had stormed his living room.
Amid the sentimental struggle of his family, the departed “Bab” was taken out and buried outside his residence in a local graveyard.
And with that, the decade-long house-arrest ended in the darkest hour of the night.
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