On Thursday, prominent Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani passed away in Srinagar. Staunchly pro-Pakistan, he had spearheaded the separatist movement in Jammu and Kashmir for over three decades, and leaves behind a somewhat controversial legacy. Born in 1929, Geelani was considered to be one of the foremost separatist leaders in the Kashmir Valley and many believe that his demise has created a void that cannot be filled.
A three time MLA from Kashmir's Sopore constituency, the former school teacher had been a part of the Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir in the 1950s and later became one of the founding members of the Hurriyat Conference, a separatist amalgam of 26 parties. While he had formed the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat before joining the Jamaat-e-Islami, this was soon abandoned. Later, the party was re-formed with the same name after a vertical split within the Hurriyat Conference, that he is believed to have engineered. He had fallen out with the moderates who advocated dialogue with the Centre for resolution of the Kashmir problem.
Geelani remained the Chairman of the all parties Hurriyat Conference for many years before resigning in July 2021. He contended that that the second rung leadership did not rise to the occasion following abrogation of Article 370 by the Centre in 2019.
The former MLA had become the face of agitation in the 2008 Amarnath land row, 2010 agitation sparked by killing of a youth in Srinagar and other events. Despite being anti-mainstream, Geelani was perceived by many, including his opponents, as a well cultured and civilised politician.
Geelani died after a prolonged illness on Wednesday night at his residence in Hyderpora on the outskirts of Srinagar city. According to his close aides, he had expressed desire to be buried at the mosque at Hyderpora.
His family was asked to carry out the burial at night as a precautionary measure as intelligence reports suggested that some anti-national elements may use this to create a law and order situation in the Kashmir Valley. Officials said that authorities took Geelani's body and buried him according to rituals at the graveyard of the mosque under heavy police protection.
Meanwhile, strict restrictions have been imposed throughout the Valley to prevent people from assembling and there was heavy deployment of security forces to thwart any untoward incident. Mobile phone services, barring post-paid connections of state-run BSNL, and internet were shut down as a precautionary measure to prevent rumours and fake news from circulating. Barricades had been erected at various places and all vehicles were being thoroughly checked.
(with inputs from agencies)