Geelani should carry on

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If senior separatist’s leader has changed, he should continue with it for the betterment

On March 12, the Delhi based think tank Centre for Policy Analysis (CPA) had organised a youth convention in Constitution Club, not far away from the Parliament. More than 150 students of various universities attended the convention. They were mostly Kashmiris and gave vent to their feeling to the fullest extent. The refrain of their speeches was that there could not be any other solution to Kashmir problem but “right to self determination”.

Many Indian parliament members as also the student leaders of Jawaharlal Nehru University and other institutions echoed their views. Minority Commission chairman Wajahat Habibullah was also present and he had his own view on the subject. Most of the speakers called for withdrawal of laws such as Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Public Safety Act and demanded release of political prisoners.

By all standards and previous engagements it was a significant event where free and frank discussion took place. For a moment I could feel that as if someone like Syed Ali Geelani was speaking, since he is known for his extremist views on Kashmir. On my return to Valley, however, I found that Syed Ali Geelani had opposed the meeting, though in a different tune. He said in his statement that to show solidarity in the name of withdrawal of laws etc by the Indian leaders was to divert the attention from the real problem. He had specifically countered Wajahat Habibullah who had suggested that the past should be forgotten to move for a stable future. To the extent of opposing him on this point, the reaction could be justified. But to term the entire exercise that could provide a platform for Kashmiri youth to set a discourse in Delhi as “a diversionary tactics” does not fit in the scheme of larger engagement of Kashmiris with the people of rest of India.

Syed Ali Geelani had himself set the ball rolling in this direction during his winter stay in Delhi where he addressed a “very meaningful” meeting attended by top notches from policy making, defence strategy and academia of Delhi. The meeting organised by senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani was taken as a serious step towards this engagement. Many would see it as a “change” in Geelani’s stand but the fact remains that he did the right thing in telling them what he thinks was right. His shying away from the people who shape public opinion in India had made him an “untouchable”. His extreme views on Kashmir may not be acceptable to all and those may also not immediately provide a common ground for any breakthrough on Kashmir but making it public with a line that “Kashmiris are not against the people of India” need to be taken to nook and corner of the country.

The youth convention in Delhi was in way the off-shoot of Geelani’s efforts of mobilising the public opinion in India. How could he go against his own policy is not understandable. By rejecting such efforts and the solidarity shown by Indian intelligentsia cannot be discarded so easily as a “diversionary tactics”. Even getting only a few voices such as Prakash Karat, Ram Vilas Paswan, D Raja, Assaduddin Owaisi, Shahid Siddiqui on “your side” in parliament means a lot when the entire establishment in India is not ready to recognise the Kashmir as a problem. One should hold such a gesture in value and take it further by involving more and more people to mobilise the opinion.

While Syed Ali Geelani seems to have started talking about “different issues” such as infrastructure, he should not be scared of getting labelled as one who has changed his ideology. He is a leader whom people still respect for his unwavering stand. That makes him to stand out in the crowd. His credibility among general masses is still in upward direction. His word still has a value even if we may differ on many issues with him. The unrest in 2008, 2009 and 2010 has put him in a place where no other leader has managed to step in, even as Syed Ali Geelani in the eyes of many analysts is losing his relevance on the ground.

However, the only flaw with his personality is that he fails to strategise his course of action. Being a hardline may suit him at the fag end of his age, as he has seen the fate of one’s the tallest leader Sheikh Mohammad whose grave is guarded round the clock. But he cannot go on with his strategy without modifying it with the changing situation. Syed Ali Geelani is a staunch pro Pakistani leader and he only could dare to challenge a Pakistani President that too from Army background for “moderating the state policy” vis-a-vis Kashmir. But he has to realise that the internal situation in Pakistan has also caused a huge dent to Kashmiri cause and he needs to re align his position without compromising on the basic idea of Pakistan.

For that matter engagement with Indian intelligentsia and academia is equally important for other leaders as well. Those who are called moderates also need to continue with their efforts to make Indian population aware about the real issues. Last year Geelani had rightly chosen the tourists as the messengers of “Kashmiri sufferings” for rest of India. This time also he can rejuvenate efforts on that. The situation in Kashmir has reached to a point where engagement at every level has become inevitable. The cries for resolution cannot be confined to mosques that too on Fridays only. The leadership has to reach out to Indian masses and build an opinion, which can force New Delhi to move towards an amicable solution. So if Syed Ali Geelani has changed, he should continue with it for the betterment. No one asks him to go back on his ideology but to bring changes in strategy is something, which he or any other leader cannot brush aside. He also needs to look for good and loyal advisers who can keep him updated in the interest of people and not theirs alone.

Feedback at bukhari@risingkashmir.com