A three-time MLA, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, an avowed supporter of Pakistan, dominated separatist politics for over three decades and was dubbed as ‘Hartal man’ for giving frequent bandh calls as part of strategy to vitiate law and order situation in the Kashmir valley.
The hardline separatist, Geelani, 91, died at his residence in Srinagar after a prolonged illness and was buried along with some close family members in a nearby mosque near his house located at Hyderpora, in outskirts of the city.
A soft-spoken man with a white flowing beard, Geelani was among the last few leaders from the pre-partition era who never believed in moderate separatism and was vocal against any peace moves during his stay in Hurriyat Conference, a conglomerate of 26 parties formed in 1993.
Born on September 29, 1929, Geelani completed his education from Oriental College, Lahore and worked as a teacher for few years before joining Jamaat-e-Islami, which has now been banned.
During his political career spanning over five decades, Geelani was among few leaders who witnessed crucial phases of Jammu and Kashmir beginning from its accession to India in 1947 and finally abrogation of special status of the erstwhile state in 2019 and subsequent bifurcation.
Firm on his ideology of accession of Kashmir with Pakistan, Geelani was jailed many a times after militancy reared its ugly head in 1990.
With electoral politics emerging stronger than separatist from 1996 onwards, Geelani’s stand became more and more hardline resulting in bifurcation of Hurriyat Conference in 2003 after which he floated his own Tehrek-e-Hurriyat — the reason that he did not want to be seen coming close to New Delhi.
A shocker for the hardline leader came in 2002 when Income Tax carried out searches at his residence and claimed to have recovered unaccounted cash of 10,000 dollars besides a diamond-studded watch gifted by Pakistan Government. He was arrested and sent to Jharkhand jail where he developed a medical condition and was shifted to a hospital in Mumbai. Later on, he was released on health grounds. He has a tax liability of Rs 1.73 crore with the Income Tax and over Rs 14 lakh with the Enforcement Directorate.
Post Amarnath land row in 2008 when the then state government had proposed to allow temporary structures to be built for annual Amarnath pilgrimage, Geelani spearheaded an agitation and used to give out weekly ‘calendars’ of protest. Soon he was seen as a ‘Hartal man’ for disrupting the situation in the valley.
He repeated this approach of calling for hartals during 2009 agitation in Shopian where bodies of two women was found from a Nallah. It was alleged initially that they had been raped and murdered by the security forces, which, however, was not correct as post-mortem report suggested that they had drowned in the season nallah. However, he had managed a shut down for nearly 45 days.
In 2010, Geelani repeated his 2008 performance and brought the Kashmir valley to a grinding halt after a youth was killed by a teargas shell during protest.
The final isolation for Geelani was when he refused to open his door for a parliamentary delegation that had come on a visit to Kashmir valley, which had again been brought to a standstill after the death of Burhan Wani, poster boy of banned Hizbul Mujahideen terror group, by his hartal calls and calendar of protests.
Geelani was criticised by civil society for playing with the career of their children by these frequent bandh calls which had paralysed educational system as well as tourism sector, mainstay of bread earning for many in the Kashmir valley.
The hardliner was often seen angry with Pakistan when it talked about building a healthy a relationship with India and his faceoff with former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in New Delhi in 2005 over his four-point plan to resolve Kashmir dispute which included having soft borders between two parts of the Kashmir.
A S Dulat, former RAW chief and Officer on Special Duty to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had described Geelani as “Jehadi Bub” (father of Jihad) in his book on Kashmir. Dulat had been looking after Kashmir desk since 1990 initially in the Intelligence Bureau and later in the RAW.
Geelani’s calls for poll boycott also yielded no responses and in fact saw an increased poll percentage post 2002 elections.
Suffering from various ailments and having been sidelined even by Pakistan, who decided to elect it’s own favourites in Tehrek-e-Hurriyat’s Pakistan chapter, Geelani bid farewell to Hurriyat politics in June 2020 saying the second rung leadership did not rise to the occasion following abrogation of Article 370 by the Centre in 2019.
Having a pacemaker and one kidney removed, Geelani’s health deteriorated over the past 18 months and was suffering from dementia.
His son-in-law Altaf Ahmed Shah alias Altaf Fantoosh and hardliner Masarat Alam, who were among the front runners to succeed Geelani’s legacy of separatism politics, are at present lodged in jail in a case filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) related to funding of various terror organisations in Kashmir valley.
“We may have had disagreements but I respect him for sticking to his beliefs”, were Mehbooba Mufti’s words of tribute for him.
“I don’t think Kashmir valley has or will witness any other politician who mixes politics with religion so skillfully”, was the opinion of well known Kashmiri political analyst and journalist Ahmed Ali Fayyaz.
Many Kashmiris seemed amused with his death, because they blame him for the death and destruction of Kashmiri youth by making them pick up guns and perpetrating violence in the valley while his own children enjoyed lavish lifestyles, education in Indian universities and abroad, as well as Indian government jobs.
” Finally Kashmir is free from G-viris” was the whatsapp status of many amused youth.
“Geelani played on both sides, He took money from ISI , the Military Intelligence wing of Pakistan, to fortify radicalism in Kashmir against India , while his son minted money from Indian Intelligence agencies, giving them inputs about Militants” , was the observation of author Asad Bashir who penned the popular book Kashmir Files.
Many reknown personalities of Kashmir including journalists and politicians prayed for ‘ Magfirath’ meaning forgivess for a departed soul, for Geelani.
Many more condolences would have poured in, if at all Internet was not snapped and Phone calls not barred in the Kashmir valley, as a precautionary measure after Geelani’s demise was announced and confirmed at 10.30 pm at his Hyderpora residence in Srinagar on Wednesday night.
Not surprisingly Pakistan government officials made hard hitting statements and exaggerated about his woeful condition which they accused the Indian Government for bringing upon him.
Yes , the same Indian Government which provided him a life of dignity in his own home, not left to rot in a jail. He also availed from India, medical treatment, security and even a passport. Not because Indians ever considered him worthy of their nationality , but on compassion grounds because he wished to travel to Saudi Arabia to meet his daughter and perform Hajj.
Leaving us to wonder, if Syed Ali Shah Geelani was indeed a Nishan e Pakistan and a hero in the eyes of Pakistan, then who was he being protected from , by being given Indian security?
Wasn’t it security from the same Pakistan which he angered by resigning from Hurriyat in 2019 and also by maintaining silennce after abrogation of Article 370?
All said and done, one thing is for sure, it doesn’t seem likely that any of his children will resign from their confirtable government jobs or lavish lifestyles in Turkey to take forward his legacy.
Nor is it likely that his son in law even after completing jail term, who was being proposed as the heir of Tehreek e Hurriyat, will have much incentive or motivation to take the legacy forward owing to steps taken by NIA to control hawala, illegal possession of foreign currency and terror funding, after the abrogation of A370.