Former Jammu and Kashmir MLA and prominent separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani passed away at around 10:30 pm on Wednesday night. A pro-Pakistan supporter who spearheaded the separatist movement in the Union Territory for over three decades, he was the founder member of Hurriyat Conference and later, the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat in early 2000. The three-time legislator from Sopore 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.
While his demise has evoked a mixed bag of reactions among Indian leaders and citizens, Pakistan is marking it as a day of mourning. Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday night took to Twitter to mourn the passing of the "Kashmiri freedom fighter" stating that the neighbouring country would fly its flag at half mast and "observe a day of official mourning.
"Deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Kashmiri freedom fighter Syed Ali Geelani who struggled all his life for his people and their right to self determination. He suffered incarceration and torture by the Occupying Indian state but remained resolute," Khan alleged.
Following the eruption of militancy in Kashmir in 1990, Geelani had become an anti-election spearhead. While a founder member of the Hurriyat Conference, a separatist amalgam of 26 parties, he eventually fell out with the moderates who advocated dialogue with the Centre for resolution of the Kashmir problem. A vertical split within the grouping, that he is believed to have engineered, led to Geelani eventually launching his own faction in 2003. In July 2020 however, he left the Hurriyat, contending that the second rung leadership did not rise to the occasion following abrogation of Article 370 by the Centre in 2019.
Despite being anti-mainstream politicians, Geelani was seen as well cultured and a civilised politician. His death drew condolences from even Sajad Lone, who once accused Geelani of making instigating statements that led to his father Abdul Gani Lone's killing. He is survived by two sons and six daughters.
Mobile internet was being shut down in Kashmir valley as a precautionary measure to prevent confusion due to spread of rumours. Pro-Geelani slogans and messages announcing his death were broadcast over loudspeakers from mosques in Kashmir valley.
Police said curfew-like restrictions have been imposed in Kashmir as a precautionary measure. Strict curbs have been imposed in Sopore district and security forces have been deployed in strength at vulnerable places. A heavy police bandobast was seen around Geelani's residence and the roads leading upto it were sealed, with no one allowed to go there.
(With inputs from agencies)