Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani passed away in Srinagar on 1 September, at the ripe old age of 92.
He was born in 1929, in the long shadow of a torrid age before, whose rigidly exclusivist outlines were drawn by a Sunni Hanafi revivalist seminary set up at Deoband in 1866, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s two-nation theory, Lord Curzon’s insidious partition of Bengal in 1905, the birth of the Muslim League the next year, the spread of Salafism, the establishment of the Deobandi Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind in 1919, as a political vehicle solely for Muslims, and a disastrous, sanguinary Khilafat movement in 1921.
For that generation of Indian Muslims, independence from the British was but a subset of a larger, necessary independence for the Muslim self, viscerally distant and isolated, culturally and geographically, from the heathen, idolatrous kaffirs they shared space with.
So what if the Mughals and the last Caliph were both gone?
There was enough demographic potential to fashion a fresh kingdom of god in the Indo-Gangetic plains, in which prince and priest would jointly rule by sword and scripture, as originally intended, under supreme shariah law once more.
It was a violent, centennial, concatenation, which led to the partition of this sacred land, and then festered into our present age, as Pakistan-sponsored Kashmiri separatism.
Till the end of his day, Geelani remained unapologetically of the twin beliefs, that Kashmir was a part of Pakistan, and that Muslims could not live amiably with Hindus.
As patriarch of the Hurriyat Conference, Geelani, along with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, presided over horrific home-grown violence and ethnic cleansing in the Kashmir valley. All means were justifiable, including the expulsion of Kashmiri Pundits, attacks on security forces, and the elimination of other separatist leaders, who dared to consider even a modicum of compromise with the Indian state.
His objectives were clear: to merge with Pakistan, and turn out all non-Sunnis, so that the valley could become a land of the 'pure'. The continuous assistance he received from Pakistan for these efforts was matched by an enabling environment created at home, by desperate Left Liberal secularists permanently in search for the Muslim vote.
An image of Geelani fondly patting Communist leader Sitaram Yechury’s hand during a meeting in 2010, lingers on in grotesque memory.
That was the Congress-UPA era, when parties eagerly lined up for an audience with a man, whom activists and the media tried to subtly portray as some sort of saintly freedom fighter.
Similarly, readers must not forget that Asaduddin Owaisi’s quest to position himself as an alternative to the secular parties began over a decade ago, with the legitimacy he attracted from widely-publicised visits to Geelani and others in the valley.
The PR subtext was that it didn’t matter if the Hurriyat leaders were under detention, by the 'evil' hand of an imperial, imperious Hindu state (even when the popular mandate was with the Congress); here was an alternative who empathised with Geelani’s terribly-subjugated predicament, who espoused similar feelings of religious victimhood, and cultural and political alienation; a potential national leader of Indian Muslims who would form a separate electorate and vote on purely communal interests rather than national ones.
Geelani’s death, then, evoked a fairly narrow spectrum of responses. No Indian could mourn his passing; as senior anchor Rahul Shivshankar said on television, the man ought to have been tried for war crimes of Hindu genocide, and executed by the state, a long time ago.
Curiously, the usual suspects were fairly muted in condolence; most tiptoed around the death as if it never happened, even as they tweeted touching remembrances for other bereavements.
It seemed that their traditional, contrarian valour, ever on proud display against all things good and sacred, had somehow, suddenly, become as flighty as a wisp.
Perhaps, ‘darr ka mahaul hai’ — an argument we should actually expect to see in the coming weeks, as tremulous explanation for their gutless silence, over the passing of a vicious separatist they pampered and nurtured with their moral equivalences.
Former Chief Minister of Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, who lives his life on Twitter, didn’t tweet a solitary character on Geelani’s death. In fact, his last post as this piece goes to press was on the morning of 1 September: a bored, routine, juvenile taunt, about India having to fecklessly ‘climb down’ and engage with the Taliban in Doha.
All the public mourning was across the border, in Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was deeply saddened to learn that a ‘Kashmiri freedom fighter’ was no more, and that their flag would fly at half mast for a man who once said ‘We are Pakistani and Pakistan is ours’.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi hoped that Geelani’s dream of freedom would come true. The comment sections of both tweets were a lesson in heavy sarcasm and acerbic wit.
Unfortunately for Geelani though, his departure was overshadowed the next morning by two tragedies: the death of young actor Sidharth Shukla, and that of famous editor and journalist, Chandan Mitra.
By dusk, the fourth test had also started at the Oval; with the Indian first innings in tatters, once again, and only Shardul Thakur valiantly digging in to save the day, Geelani was all but forgotten by dinner time.
That’s a mistake, because we forget the likes of Geelani, and how they were built up, only at our collective peril.
First, Geelani’s passing doesn’t mark the end of one era, or the start of another, for the simple reason that Pakistan, whose abettor he was, hasn’t changed its policies towards India since 1947, and isn’t expected to in the foreseeable future.
The annexation of Kashmir will remain that nation’s unfinished agenda, which it will pursue at all costs. So if one Geelani goes, a replacement will appear, in one form or another.
Second, nothing is a binary black-or-white in the geopolitics surrounding Kashmir. In that sense, Geelani may have lost ground in recent years. But, the Kashmiriyat being promoted by his votaries remains that of the But Shikan — a medieval king of the vale who won infamy as a destroyer of idols; fanatics, who are theologically and politically incapable of any compromise, or coexistence, with idolatrous heathens.
Third, a de-fanging of articles 370 and 35A might have temporarily taken the wind out of the Hurriyat’s sails, but it is only that — a lull. So, even if we haven’t heard an ominous peep in ages, from an oddly-muted Mirwaiz or Yasin Malik, already, other voices have started to fill the silence.
Al Qaeda, whose leadership remains in Pakistan, issued a statement that their next target after the successful ‘liberation’ of Kabul was Kashmir.
Not to be outdone, the Taliban, who said last week that they had no interest in India’s internal affairs, changed their stance (after the Doha meeting with India’s ambassador to Qatar).
Now, they would speak against India if injustice were meted out to Kashmiris, or if India mistreated its Muslim community. (Note how ‘Kashmiri’, in Talibanese, means Muslim; it is as if the Pundits never existed)
At the same time, the tone of Kashmiri politicians in India has grown harsher, shriller and increasingly provocative. Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said at a recent public rally, that the Indian government would ‘disappear’ if the people of Jammu and Kashmir lost their patience; so, better for Delhi to reinstate the state’s special status, and talk to Pakistan.
This may seem infernally diabolical compared to the weary resignation Omar Abdullah expresses on television these days, but the first family of Srinagar is not different in its objectives.
It is just that the Abdullahs’ xenophobic yearnings for autonomy are wrapped in pretty paper and a bow.
Omar’s sister Safia ridiculed the Indian Army during the Sino-Indian Ladakh standoff in May last year, by tweeting that the Chinese would provide 4G telecom services to the Kashmir valley before long.
People commenting on Geelani should, therefore, realize that competitive separatism is already upon us, and that a casus belli is steadily being set.
Fourth, and this is the crux of the argument, the issue with such separatist sentiments is that if Afghanistan, Pakistan and Valley politicians changed since America’s global war on terror started two decades ago, so did India.
Thirty years ago, Geelani was the monster who couldn’t be touched while he and his tribe fomented an ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pundits in the valley. Twenty years ago, he was the man to be handled with kid gloves, just in case a jostle too far set the place on fire.
Ten years ago, Geelani could still call for a valley-wide boycott of interlocutors from the Centre, like Radha Kumar (who, ironically, later wrote of that boycott call in rhapsodic, empathetic terms).
And yet, in 2020, the man left the Hurriyat he’d made his own, and retired into obscurity. All he got for his efforts was Pakistan’s highest civilian honour.
What happened? India finally awoke in 2014, and decided that national security matters were no longer up for debate; from hereon, anyone playing footsie with the Hurriyat did so only at tremendous political cost — With interest.
In bald terms, those secular leaders who used to visit Geelani for his secular blessings now realised to their horror, that hankering for the Muslim vote was governed by the law of diminishing electoral returns. Consequently, those same politicians are, today, trying to out-Hindu one another, as the bloc Muslim vote becomes increasingly irrelevant, in a political process furiously ridding itself of identity politics with a vengeance.
Rahul Gandhi thus makes his temple runs, Mamata Banerjee chants her Chandi Paath, and Akhilesh Yadav says, with a remarkably straight face, that his Lord Rama belongs to his Samajwadi Party. Even Asaduddin Owaisi spends more time needling the Centre about talking to the Taliban, than highlighting the ‘plight’ of Hurriyat detainees.
In such a dramatically transformed environment, what might one say in closing about a man, who believed with all his heart, that people of different communities couldn’t live together in harmony?
Pakistani condolences are wasted, since Geelani’s dreams will never come true. Pakistan will never annex Jammu and Kashmir. Equating terrorists with freedom fighters will no longer fly.
And further propagation of the two-nation theory will merely force more Indians to question the merits of partition. Indeed, Geelani’s relevance reduced because the relevance of his non-Muslim enablers in India reduced, and that process is only set to grow further, in times to come. Such is life.
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