In the death of Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, 92, Kashmir has lost one of its tallest leaders, whom neither time nor tide could tame. On the contrary, his stand had been turning less and less accommodative in the evening of his life. True, he was a hawk all his life, for separatism was an article of faith for him. What separated him from the Hurriyat and other political leaders in Kashmir was that he could not compromise on his belief that Kashmir’s redemption lay in its own distinct identity.
A person who was elected to the state assembly three times and who knew that there was no better way to fulfil the dreams of the people than through democracy, he eschewed the democratic path. True, if he lost his faith in the democratic system, he alone could not be blamed, for those who controlled the system were willing to make it a tool of their political and administrative machinations.
All through his life, Geelani tried to give the impression that he wanted the Kashmiris themselves to be the masters of their own destiny. In other words, separatism for him did not mean Kashmir becoming an adjunct of Pakistan, though he welcomed the support from across the border as long as it furthered his cause. A perceptive shift in his position could be discerned, as he was no longer shy of mentioning the P-word in the articulation of his stand.
The political developments in the state since it lost its statehood and became two Union Territories directly administered by the Union government through a pliable governor seem to have hardened his political stand. By the time he died, he had forsaken his neutrality and had aligned himself with Pakistan, though it had no practical implications.
This fetched Geelani Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Pakistan, in July last year more to spite India than to honour him. Pakistan has upped the ante by declaring that its flag will fly at half-mast as a mark of respect to the nonagenarian leader. The hawks on this side of the border will invariably ask how Pakistan’s grief would matter to the people of Jammu and Kashmir who believe that one unsettled issue of the Partition was the reunification of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with the rest of India.
Discussions on such topics can be endless for they are unlikely to yield any conclusions, let alone an enduring solution to the Kashmir conundrum. That extraordinary steps like suspending the Internet connectivity in the state needed to be taken in the context of Geelani’s death does not show the political system in a good light.
Two months ago, there was a ray of hope when the Centre called an all-party meeting to end the imbroglio. One fervently hoped that there would soon be some light at the end of the tunnel. Alas, nothing of the sort happened as there has been no follow-up.
Leaders like former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti cannot be blamed if they accuse the Centre of treating the all-party jamboree as nothing but a photo opportunity to mislead public opinion within and without the country. It is certainly not in the nation’s interest if such a perception remains among the Kashmiris who believe that their destiny is intertwined with that of India. They need to be taken into confidence for enduring peace and tranquillity in the state. Forces represented by Geelani and his ilk are not the only ones who are agitated over the goings-on in the erstwhile state.
Article 370 is no longer the issue, for it had become a dead letter even before the BJP came to power at the Centre. Statehood is an altogether different kettle of fish. Declaring the state as two UTs was an administrative decision which had no political sanction. The BJP can claim that abrogation of Article 370 had always been the party’s core demand right from the day it came into being, first as the Bharatiya Jan Sangh.
However, the same cannot be said about the vivisection of the state, which was never a part of the party’s agenda. It did not figure in any of the election manifestos the party brought out in successive elections. India is a federal state with certain unitary characteristics. Restoration of statehood is a prerequisite for the restoration of democracy. The earlier this is done, the better it will be for the country. Quietness is not a state of normalcy. Nor is cacophony an ideal state.
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