Indian authorities imposed a security clampdown in disputed Kashmir late Wednesday after the death of freedom icon Syed Ali Geelani at the age of 92.
Troops put up barbed wire and barricades on roads leading to Geelani’s house in the main city of Srinagar after the family announced the death. Hundreds of security forces were immediately deployed and media reports said a curfew would be imposed and internet services cut.
Announcements were made from loudspeakers of the main mosque near Geelani’s residence asking people to march towards the house. But scores of armoured vehicles and trucks patrolled main roads in the area. Police appealed for people not to go out on the street.
Geelani, an uncompromising campaigner against Indian rule in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan since 1947, had been under house arrest for the past 11 years. He had been ill for several months.
Geelani had been a thorn in India’s side since the early 1960s when he began campaigning for the territory’s merger with Pakistan. He also pursued his separatist calls as a member of the Kashmir assembly.
The veteran politician was jailed for nearly 10 years after 1962 and often restricted to his home after that.
Profile of the Great Leader
Geelani was born on Sept. 29, 1929 in a village on the banks of Wular lake in Sopore area of Kashmir’s Baramulla district. After early education in his home town, he traveled to Lahore — then a hub of literary activities — for higher studies.
He returned to Srinagar after finishing his degree in Islamic theology in 1940s. Here he met Maulana Sayeed Masoodi, then secretary general of pro-India National Conference party, who offered him a job as a news reporter at the Khidmat daily, an Urdu language newspaper.
He also studied Islamic jurisprudence, besides Urdu and Persian.
n 1992, foundation of All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (APHC) was laid. It was a platform of at least 30 pro-freedom parties to take forward Kashmir’s fight for right to self-determination. The JeI was represented by Geelani.
“Geelani’s uncompromising stand boosted his popularity graph among the youth,” a senior Kashmir-based journalist, who wished anonymity, told Anadolu Agency. “He would shoulder coffins of slain armed rebels, and would in his public speeches eulogize the resistance movement.”
Although his popular support came from a strong JeI cadre, his politics knew no boundaries. “The politics of Geelani is that he largely consolidated of what Kashmiris want. He has a defined goal which was missing in other people,” a Kashmiri political science researcher told Anadolu Agency from New Delhi.
His “unambiguous” stature rose to such heights that his single call could shut the entire Kashmir valley and people could hit the roads any time,” writes Dr Shafi Shariati in “Syed Ali Geelani – A Movement, A History”.
“He is the man having supporters from almost every corner of the valley including Chenab and Pir-Panchal regions, who always remain ready to hear him…He does not see two ways in Kashmir resolution; people found resonance with that,” said the political science scholar from the Indian capital.
The strongest pro-Pakistan voice in Kashmir, Geelani off late was seen touching upon global Muslim issues.
“A strong advocate of right to self-determination for Kashmiris, Geelani has been stressing for Muslim unity throughout his life, campaigning against exclusivism,” said the Kashmir-based journalist, who has covered Geelani’s politics for a long time. “He [Geelani] can be termed as an influential advocate of the idea of ‘Muslim nationalism’.”
“His love for Pakistan Kashmir is non-negotiable,” said Ambassador Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s former envoy to India, recalling his meeting with Geelani in New Delhi.
“Geelani is a man of undefeatable resolve and principles who would not tolerate breaking any compromise on rights of Kashmiris,” he said.
In 2006, when former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf offered India his 4-Point Formula (free cross-LoC movement, self-governance, phased withdrawal of troops, joint mechanism toward the final resolution) to solve the Kashmir issue, Geelani opposed it.
“This spoke of Geelani sahab’s commitment to Kashmir freedom movement that he went against Musharraf as it [4-point formula] was departure from UN resolutions on Kashmir,” said Basit. UN resolutions on Kashmir call for referendum in Kashmir across the dividing Line of Control to decide its political future but Musharraf had offered India joint control over the disputed region. Geelani’s stand against “Musharraf formula made people look at him not just a pro-Pakistan ideologue but one who stood for Kashmiris,” said the Kashmiri journalist. Basit believes Geelani’s “uncompromising stand” led to his emergence as the only leader in the APHC fold.
In 2016 after the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Wani at the hands of Indian security forces. Geelani, along with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik, issued week-long calendars asking people to hold protests.
Meanwhile, on Aug. 5, 2019, the Indian government revoked Article 370 and other related provisions from its Constitution, scrapping the country’s only Muslim-majority state with its autonomy. It was also split into two federally administered territories. Simultaneously, it locked the region down, detaining thousands of people, imposing movement restrictions and enforcing a communications blackout.
However, political commentator Sheikh Showkat Hussain said the pro-freedom camp “remained consistent with the struggle prior to revocation of special status”. Srinagar-based Journalist Shah Abbas said Geelani was trying to convince the public that India wanted to bring demographic change in Kashmir for decades. “After India’s Aug. 5 move… he stands vindicated.”
Geelani will always be remembered as the top Kashmiri leader who uncompromisingly stood for one cause, freedom of Kashmir from the Indian occupation and for that, he cared not for his life. He has passed away under Indian detention at 92. His death is an irreversible damage to Kashmir’s freedom movement against the oppression of Indian occupied forces.