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Who is Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and why is his resignation from Hurriyat Conference significant?

Geelani has been known to be one of the most prominent separatist leaders in the Valley

June 29, 2020 / 06:10 PM IST

In a significant political development in Kashmir, senior Hurriyat Conference leader and separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani quit the party on June 29.

The 90-year-old leader announced his dissociation from the faction of the Hurriyat Conference that he floated in 2003 by enforcing a vertical split in the amalgam on June 29.

In his two-page letter, Geelani referred to inaction by the Hurriyat members post-abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and the division of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories.

So, who is Geelani? 

Geelani has been known to be one of the most, perhaps the most, prominent separatist leaders in the Valley. Former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, in fact, had blamed Geelani for stoking militancy in Kashmir.

Born in 1929, Geelani joined the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1953, when he was a government school teacher. Before that, he had spent over four years in Lahore, studying Quran and theology. He considers the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, Abul A'la Maududi, his mentor, according to reports.

Indian authorities have often accused Geelani of being close to Pakistan, and of acting along that nation's instructions. Geelani himself has said that Pakistan has supported the "indigenous struggle" of the people of J&K "morally, diplomatically and politically". However, he had added, that does not mean Pakistan "can take decisions on our behalf".

In his career as a separatist leader, Geelani has spent about a dozen years in jail, and has been arrested by authorities before elections in the Valley.


Geelani is no stranger to controversies. In 2010, he was booked, along with others, including author Arundhati Roy, on charges of sedition for their "anti-India speech" at a seminar in New Delhi.

He had also led prayers for 9/11 mastermind and al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after he was killed by US security forces in Pakistan. He had called for Imams to hold a funeral prayers in absentia for Bin Laden.

In 2011, he had called for "peaceful protests" against what he termed was "anti-Islamic" and "objectionable" content on social media site Facebook. This had led to protests in the Kashmir Valley.

For all his anti-India and separatist views, Geelani's medical problems have reportedly been attended to in India, by the government. Moreover, for the winters in Kashmir, he also maintains a home in Delhi's Malviya Nagar, according to reports.

Why is today's development significant?

Geelani himself has said it was due to the rebellion in the ranks of the Hurriyat that he decided to send in his resignation. But it might take some time for the reasons for his move to unravel.

However, according to reports and analysts of the region and its politics, it might be that the Pakistani establishment's criticism of Geelani's inaction post-scrapping of Article 370 last year that might have pushed him to resign.

Moreover, he has said before that other Hurriyat constituents have been teaming up with the party's chapter in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to target him. According to an India Today report, the Pakistani establishment has been distancing itself from Geelani for another reason: the 90'year-old's advancing age and other ailments.

Experts have said Geelani's departure from Hurriyat, whatever the reason, marks the end of another chapter in Kashmir's political history.

Atharva Pandit
first published: Jun 29, 2020 06:10 pm