Twilight of the separatists?
Outlook|August 10, 2020
Twilight of the separatists?
Geelani says goodbye to the Hurriyat. Did India prompt it, or is Pakistan shifting its strategy? Either way, it’s a season of bitter goodbyes in Kashmir.
Naseer Ganai

You could think of it as a final ellipsis in one man’s life, or as the turning point of a whole phase of history in Kashmir—with India, and then Pakistan, applying the vector force. For the past 30 years, 91-year-old Syed Ali Geelani has remained the pivot of Kashmiri separatism. He symbolised Kashmir’s hardline politics against Indian rule— the door that slammed shut in the face of even the occasional peace overture. Unlike some of his former associates, more amenable to dialogue under tolerable conditions, Geelani has all along enunciated the maximalist position: that the only condition for dialogue with New Delhi is that the latter accept Kashmir as a disputed territory. His street cred bore out that role of the white-bearded pater familias of resistance politics.

During the surge of protests post the killing of Burhan Wani in 2016, Geelani refused to meet the parliamentary delegation that knocked on his door at his Hyderpora residence. He described the overture as meaningless, saying they have neither the mandate nor “the intention to resolve” Kashmir. In two statements issued in September 2016, the then Hurriyat chairman asked India to accept Kashmir as a disputed territory and start demilitarisation to pave the way for a referendum—only that could “settle this issue permanently, peacefully and democratically,” he had said. That unflinching stance, in line with the sentiment on the street, meant he was acknowledged on all sides as the real inflexible one. Even if formally he was only the life-time chairman of his Hurriyat faction, he was the face and voice of Kashmir’s veto.

After years of the enforced stagnation of Hurriyat politics, Kashmir’s resistance had in recent times spilled over to the streets—in classic leaderless protests. The old separatist leaders often struggled to stay at the helm. Except Geelani: one word from him could still bring Kashmir to a pause. At times, militants have even wished that, if their path brings them death, it must be Geelani who offers their funeral prayers. And he has obliged, giving funeral speeches on video in his chaste Urdu. That’s why many mainstream leaders painted him as the political vanguard of militant separatism. And that’s why his sudden resignation from the Hurriyat Conference on June 19 came as a shock and surprise to everyone. Sharp, angular debates filled the air in Kashmir. New Delhi took notice too, with delight. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav called Geelani singularly responsible for pushing the Valley into terror and violence, ruining the lives of thousands of Kashmiri youth and families. Geelani had resigned without giving a reason, Madhav tweeted. “Does it absolve him of all the past sins?”

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August 10, 2020