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Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the patriarch of separatist politics in Kashmir Valley

A hardliner who stood up to New Delhi, Geelani was often referred to as a pro-Pakistan leader. Yet, he was the only separatist to oppose Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula of 2001 to resolve the Kashmir issue.

September 02, 2021 / 01:35 PM IST
Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s death has brought to an end a chapter of anti-India and separatist politics in Kashmir.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s death has brought to an end a chapter of anti-India and separatist politics in Kashmir.


Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the face of separatist movement in Kashmir valley, died at his residence in Srinagar on the night of September 1. He was 91.

A former member of the legislative assembly, Geelani, ailing for years, had been under house arrest for the last 12 years after leading several anti-India protests. His death has brought to an end a chapter of anti-India and separatist politics in Kashmir, according to a PTI report, more so  after the recent crackdown on separatist leaders by the investigation agencies post abrogation of Article 370 of Jammu and Kashmir.

Born on September 29, 1929, at Zuri Manz village, in north Kashmir’s Bandipora, Geelani received his preliminary education at Sopore town, and finished his studies at the Oriental College, Lahore.

Geelani was a government school teacher in 1953 when he joined Jamat-e-Islami, a socio-political and religious organisation that saw Kashmir as an “unfinished agenda” of partition. He started his political career as a mainstream politician. He first contested the assembly elections to the erstwhile assembly of Jammu and Kashmir in 1972 when the Muslim United Front (MUF), a coalition of separatist parties challenged the National Conference in the erstwhile state. He represented Sopore seat, a separatist stronghold in north Kashmir, for three terms - 1972, 1977, and 1987.

However, Geelani’s participation in the electoral process lasted in 1987 when militancy erupted in Kashmir. Geelani resigned from his seat in protest and has boycotted all elections held since.

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Over the years, Geelani rose to become the face of separatist politics in Kashmir Valley. His passport was seized for the first time when he turned to separatism in late 1990s for indulging in "anti-India activities".

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah had blamed Geelani for stoking militancy in Kashmir.

A 'pro-Pakistan' leader

A hardliner who stood up to New Delhi, Geelani was often referred to as a pro-Pakistan leader. Yet, he was the only separatist to oppose Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula proposed during 2001 Agra summit to resolve the Kashmir issue,

An ardent supporter of its merger with Pakistan, Geelani was last year awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the highest civilian honour of Pakistan. Geelani said that Pakistan supported the "indigenous struggle" of the people of J&K "morally, diplomatically and politically", but, he said, it does not mean Pakistan "can take decisions on our behalf."

Pakistan will mourn the passing away of Geelani by flying the flag at half-mast and will also observe a day of official mourning.

Behind the hartal calls

A supporter of militancy in Kashmir, Geelani was one of the seven executive members of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference when it was formed as an alliance of 26 social, political, and religious organisations in 1993.

The organisation split into two factions in 2003. In 2004, Geelani parted ways from Jamat-e-Islami when it distanced itself from militancy, and formed his own political outfit, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. In June 2020, Geelani dissociated himself from Hurriyat Conference too.

Geelani is known for his calls for strike or hartal in the Kashmir Valley every time a militant is killed.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and People’s Conference chief Sajad lone were among those who condoled Geelani’s death.

“Heartfelt condolences to the family of Syed Ali Shah Geelani Sahib. Was an esteemed colleague of my late father. May Allah grant him Jannat," said Lone, who had once accused Geelani of making instigating statements that led to his father Abdul Gani Lone's killing. Abdul Gani lone, also a separatist leader was killed in Srinagar in May 2002.

During the unrest in September 2016 after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, Geelani refused to open the doors of his Srinagar residence to  four members of parliament – CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader D Raja, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav and RJD’s Jay Prakash Narayan – who were part of the 26-member delegation of politicians to the violence-hit valley. Geelani had been in house detention since then.

Sedition and terror-funding charges

Geelani is no stranger to controversies. In 2010, he, along with author Arundhati Roy, was charged with sedition for giving an 'anti-India' speech at a seminar in Delhi.

In May 2011, Geelani offered prayers for 9/ 11 attack mastermind and Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after he was killed by US security forces in Pakistan. Geelani had appealed to clerics to hold funeral prayers in absentia for Bin Laden.

In 2015, Geelani’s application for a passport was rejected. Two months later, he acknowledged his nationality as Indian and was granted a passport with a validity of nine months.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has so far arrested 18 separatist leaders from Kashmir including those from the Hurriyat in a case of terror funding, had named Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq in the chargesheet. In March 2019, the Enforcement Directorate levied a penalty of Rs 14.40 lakh on Geelani in an alleged case regarding illegal possession of 10,000 US dollars in alleged contravention of the foreign exchange management law.
Gulam Jeelani is a journalist with over 11 years of reporting experience. Based in New Delhi, he covers politics and governance for Moneycontrol.

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