Some days back, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, decided to step aside and passed on the baton of the Tahreek Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir to his second in command Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai. On the expected lines, the decision taken at a Shoora meeting of the Tahreek Hurriyat made it to headlines in the newspapers across the sub-continent. The decision caused some columns and news analysis in some prominent newspapers in the state and at New Delhi.Besides, it set a buzz some television studios with discussions on the implications of the decision on the ongoing ‘resistance movement’in the state. Some anchors known for denouncing Syed Ali Geelani as hardcore and extremists saw it as a major paradigm shift in the “separatists” politics of the state that could yield bigger space for the moderate voices. Nonetheless, many a commentators and most of the anchors confused the Tahreek Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (G) – of which Tahreek Hurriyat isone of the constituents.
The nonagenarian leader, who for past many decades has been internationally most prominent public face of the struggle for right to self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir, has simultaneously been wearing three hats. He is Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference (G), Chairman, the Tahreek Hurriyat and senior member of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL).Since alliance of top most resistance leadership, Syed Ali Geelani, Mohmmad Yaseen Malik, and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq came into beingin the wake of June 2016 proteststhe acronym JRL in a way has been symbolizing the unity of thought and ideas in the ‘resistance leadership. Something that had been missing since after the Hurriyat Conference had splitted.
For the print and electronic media, as well as the State the decision of Geelani to step aside was an important news. In fact, the debate over the subject after Geelani or who succeeds him hadfirst become an important topic for newspapers and political analysts in 2002. In that year, he was diagnosed with cancer in one of his kidneys, after surgery his roar had become louder than before. Second time in 2007, the debate had become shriller when he was again diagnosed with cancer in his second kidney. And his doctors had advised him to go for treatment to America. The then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had taken a personal interest in seeing an international passport issued to him. Nonetheless, the USA government had denied him a visa for his statement against the policy of President Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were widespread reports at that time that an agreement on the lines of four-point formula on Kashmir had reached to a final stage and it was just to be signed. Interestingly and callously, a couple of leaders averse to Geelani’s stand on Musharraf formula had seen his illness as a silver-lining for the resolutions of Kashmir problem in line with the Musharraf formula. He survived the deadly cancer, after half of his second kidney was scalped,and the debate over his successor had also died down. During the 2016 intifada, when selective leakswere madethat the ailing Hurriyat (G) leaderwas allegedly suffering from dementiathe question about his successor once again became part of the public discourse. This time interestingly some names from his family had popped up in the social media as his likely successor. Nevertheless, after the 2016-Intifada was relegating to pages of history the stories about his dementia and retirement also proved to be a figment of imagination.
It would be too amateurish to be carried away by the 9 PM hate-television studio that Syed Ali Shah Geelani has retired from the political struggle that he has been in the vanguard for past many decades. Despite, old age fatigue and prolonged house-arrest he has not taken a political recluse. Nevertheless, he has only handed over the reins of the Tahreek Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir, to one of top resistance leaders of long standing. Taking a retirement from the struggle and handing over batonof an important organization- in fact, an important bastion of the Hurriyat (G) to comparatively a younger leader are not similar. Those analysts and commentators or anchors who have construed abdicating of the top slot of the Tahreek Hurriyat by Geelani in favor of the General Secretary of the organization as change of guard of the Hurriyat Conference (G) are factually incorrect.
The sagging energy, of ageing Geelani, seems more than obvious reason for his stepping aside and appointingSehrai as Chairman of the Tahreek Hurriyat – an important cadre based organization that in a way has been working as ideological bastion for the Hurriyat (G). To understand importance of Tahreek Hurriyat to the Hurriyat (G) narrative, one need to go into genesis of this organization and its laid out objectives and if ideologically it different from the Jammat-I-Islamia Jammu and Kashmir, mother organization of Syed Ali Geelani, AshrafSehraiAnd lots of Tahreek Hurriyat cadres. It would worth noting that Jammat-I-Islamia Jammu and Kashmir is not affiliated neither with Jammat-I-Islamia Hind nor Jammat-I-Islamia Pakistan.
In the year 2002,after the state assembly elections, he was released from the jail along with other leaders. On his release, he accused the People Conference, one of the constituents of the APHC of fielding proxy candidates and called for expulsion of its leader from the multi-party combine. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, did not accept his demand, he broke away and formed his faction of the multi-party combine- he was joined by many like minded leaders. In theHurriyat Executive, before the split,Geelani represented the Jammat-I-Islamia.He was heading political wing of the Jammat. In 2004, for differences with the Jammat-I-Islam, he bade adieu to it after four and half decades. The Tahreek Hurriyat was launched on 7 August 2004. On its first anniversary, at a massive public gathering at Hyderpora, it announced “Islam, Freedom’ and Unity of Muslims” as its three objectives. On 6, August 2006 at a convention of basic members of the party, all the three identified objectives were explained. Moreover, subsequently Chairman of the Tahreek, Syed Ali Shah Geelani published a 78 page booklet, laced with quotes from the Holy Quran, and he in greater depth explained every article of faith of the organization. Out, of the three objectives, the two are totally in sync with the Jammat-I-Islamia ideology. Nonetheless, it is the second objective, ‘Azadi’ that gives an insight into the political ideology of the organization. Explaining, the party’s idea of Azadi, the booklet traces history of the KashmirDispute, and candidly that the right to self-determination for the people of the corner stone of its political philosophy. But in concrete terms, it says nothing about the political freedom.
Notwithstanding, Syed Ali Geelani having abdicated the Tahreek Hurriyat, he is there the central figure in the contemporary resistance movement and even if he decides to step down as chairman of the Hurriyat (G), he will be there like wheel bound Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin of Palestinewas till the last day.
Z. G .MUHAMMAD
Columnist and Writer