This week went to snow and a rumour. Snow fell all over Kashmir and the rumour travelled far and wide. My phone rang up when I was just about to sleep. The friend on the other side had received a call when he had already dozed off. Apparently worried, he enquired about Geelani. “There is a word spread around that Geelani Sahab has passed away”, my friend’s voice was dripping with worry. I hurriedly logged on to find out if there was any news update. Finding none, I called my friend back, and both of us left it to morning. In the morning another friend called up, then some relative came in, all were frantically trying to know if there was any truth in the rumour. What does this indicate.
Apart from news value, speaking from crass journalistic point of view, anything about Geelani heightens the situation in Kashmir. Not to undermine others who represent the same political space in Kashmir, Geelani has carved out a space that belongs to him alone. His shortcomings and inadequacies aside, he has earned to himself a charisma that unmistakably puts him in the lead. This doesn’t mean that we consider him right in all respects, and write off all others. It only means that he has a genuine claim to leadership in Kashmir. Leadership, that is not tied to how many votes you get but to how many souls you stir. This is where Geelani matters and a rumour about him sets all phones ringing.
But beyond rumours, even beyond life and death, Geelani as a case of a leader who is now well advanced in age, calls for a serious thought. Every present is followed by a past and there is a time when past clasps the moment and present comes to an end. Geelani won’t live for ever and that means some day rumour would come true. Remember Mian Muhammed Tufai, a person who is well known and hugely respected in the idealogical circles that Geelani comes from. His response to the news that Syed Maududi is to be hanged finally is edifying, and consoling in many way. Tufail says that when he received the news, just after that initial shock, he thought to himself: ‘Is there anything in this universe that God would finally require a Maududi to run. The life will ultimately move on. A million things die, and a another million are bornevery moment in this limitless universe of God.’ Geelani is ultimately a mortal being and the life will move on with or without him. He has done his job, the way he could. The question of his absence remains for us to think over.
What would that mean to Kashmir. One simple and disinterested way of taking it is that the life will move on as usual and Kashmir politics will barely witness any change. Dispute will remain as dispute, Movement will move on, Resistance will continue, and Unionist politics will neither slow down nor change direction. Not to speak of the world that is somehow connected to Kashmir, even the two main parties, India and Pakistan, will go on unchanged. Kashmir will also look the same but something would be missing. Geelani’s presence. We are now so used to him that the thought of his being not around causes a painful twitch. Nevertheless!
This presence will be replaced by a certain kind of sybolism. Geelani will live after his death as a symbol of unbending leadership, and a relentless campaigner. The question is how will that symbolism be operated in the political space that is represented by Geelani Sahab. This is the question that leaps out when the thought of beyond-Geealni visits. Who will own the legacy? Which space will more effectively operationalize Geelani as a symbol, and where will the mantle of leadership fall afterwards. Before answering such questions it is important to locate Geelani is the political space of Kashmir. Geelani has an unmistakable stamp of Jamat-e-Islami on his personality. Even if he is not formally in the Jam’at hierarchy, and heads a separate political party, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, he is first and final a Jam’at man. That gives Jamat-e-Islami an advantage of claiming him after him. But given the fact that Jam’at has stepped back from active Kashmir-politics and is now more into its ideological activism, having Geelani all to itself will pose problems that it is in mood to invite right now.
There are some sections promoting a variant of Islamic Movement that is extreme and radical. They will in all likelihood try to stake an exclusive claim to Geelani’s legacy. In that case what is to be watched for is how would more moderate opinion, including Jamat-e-Islami respond to that. In both the cases Geelani would recoil into an ideological space that is for all practical purpose confined and limited. That actually will be the death of Geelani as a popular leader.
There is another difference between the two claiments. If it goes to Jam’at, Geelani’s legacy will become less effective in terms of popular politics, but certainly will not contribute to any manifest violence. But in case it is otherwise, the extreme and radical variant that combines Kashmir and Islam succeeds in monopolising the space, Geelani would boost activism, but violence would rule the heads, hearts and limbs.
It is here that Tehreek-e-Hurriyat has to stand guard. Refusing the legacy to become a part of any structured inactivity or an enthusiastic violence is the task at hand. We wish Geelani Sahab a quick recovery, hoping that he guides his party in this crucial matter