Testament With A Difference

Geelani’s autobiography is more than a personal account


Some thirty-five years back, I had imagined Syed Ali Geelani catapulting to the centre stage of Kashmir politics. In an article “Kashmir After Sheikh Abdullah” published on June 3, 1977 in the Weekly Radiance, New Delhi, then recognized as voice of Indian Muslims, believing that after Sheikh Abdullah’s death a new collective leadership will emerge in Kashmir,  I had seen a greater role for Syed Ali Geelani along with a couple of other then comparatively young  proactive leaders. His fiery speeches, bolder statements about Kashmir dispute in the Assembly and unwavering stand on issues like land grants and resettlement bills told the story about the man. 

I was reminded of this long forgotten article on reading the second part of Syed Ali Geelani’s autobiography, “Wular Kinari”. The 686 pages book published by Milat Publications, Srinagar, priced at Rs. 500, has a foreword by an internationally known eminent Islamic scholar and economist Prof. Khurshid Ahmed, founder President of Institute of Policy studies, Islamabad.  Calling Geelani as role model for the future generations of Kashmir, he sees his autobiography as a valuable ‘manual’ that will serve as a lodestar for the youth and the future generation of the Jammu and Kashmir.

The life of author, as emanates from the book, can broadly be divided into three parts: one as founding members of Jammu and Kashmir Jamat-e-Islamia, deeply committed to Islam, an admirer of poetry of Iqbal, an ardent   follower  of Saiyyid Abul A’la  Maududi and  strongly wedded to his ideology.  Two, strong voice of dissent in the legislative assembly as its elected member for fifteen years.  Third, articulating steadfastly the cause of right to self-determination for the people of the state. The three roles as one fillips through the pages of the book start converging into one giving a holistic picture of the octogenarian Kashmir leader who is often described as ‘hardliner’ by media in New Delhi.
The Wular Kinari, true to the genre of autobiography, is subjective, a memoir detailing events in the life of the author, telling the story of a “finite span of time within subjects life”- some very personal. It combines historical facts with personal but in its scope, it is more than a personal account. On many counts, it is a testament meant for the future generations of Kashmir. Of all Kashmir leaders, he has had far greater interaction not only with students of youth of the state but also with younger generations of Indian Muslims. On many occasions he has participated in the functions of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in various cities across India. 

For his eloquence and scholarship, during early seventies and eighties he was much sought after by students and youth conventions and rallies in the state and outside.   It is the first book that gives a detailed account about the birth and the role-played by Islamic Jamat-e-Tulba Jammu and Kashmir – a student’s organization in the state polity. In late seventies and eighties, it was the most important students’ organization in Kashmir that attracted headlines.
In this book sometimes, like a teacher in history, the author addresses the younger generation.  

Explaining them the mistakes committed in the past and identifying the pitfalls in the struggle, he explains them the dynamics of the problem. He informs them that biggest challenge to them was thralldom -“Ghulami”. (page 90-95)
Geelani’s understanding of Kashmir has come from his travelling to the remotest parts of the state, many a times on foot. He has written in detail about his travels in far-flung areas of the state and problems faced by people in these areas. These travels besides helping him in establishing mass contacts has also enabled him to know the aspirations of people in these areas and articulate the same.

In his autobiography, he has endeavored to put at rest controversy over Jamat-e-Islamia’s participation in 1972 election when the then premier pro-right to self-determination organization Jammu and Kashmir was declared unlawful under unlawful activities act. This was seen as betrayal with greater Kashmir cause after the then state chief minister, Syed Mir Qasim in his biography had given details about his wooing the Jamat and other organization into the election arena. In defence of the Jamat participating in 1972 elections and it not undermining the cause, he   draws strength from the Plebiscite Front first participating in the 1969, local bodies’ elections, then indirectly participating in 1971 elections by sponsoring candidates and fielding some proxy candidates in 1972 election.  Denouncing the 1975 Indra-Sheikh agreement as total ‘surrender’, he narrates and comments in greater depth on this accord and its negative implications. Notwithstanding Abdullah’s surrender the movement continued, but for his mistakes, the stature of this tallest leader was dwarfed. This could happen to anyone who follows his footprints, he writes.  On occasions for his fiery speeches on the floor of the house, one gets the impression that Geelani has been a great crusader inside the Assembly.  

The autobiography without mincing words largely encapsulates major political events of the state from 1971 to 1996. He is not shy in admitting that in 1977 elections, the Jamat mooted the idea of entering into an electoral alliance with the National Conference but it did not materialize (page 209).  On the 1987 elections, that many contemporary Indian historians see a cause for armed insurgency, the book provides a deeper insight.  The book narrates inside stories about birth, division and death of the MUF. It also makes certain revelations how and why the Jamat-e-Islamia decided to support the armed struggles. And bringing out certain historical realities he belies the allegation that Syed Ali Geelani pushed this organization into militancy and narrates some known and unknown stories about the birth of Hizbul-Mujahideen.

Subtly analyzing how militancy proved counterproductive and spawned renegade culture, the author who for his pioneering role during past three decades can be described as the protagonist, critically evaluates the “movement” he has been in lead.

The Wular Kinari is second important autobiography after the Aatish Chinar of Sheikh Abdullah. Sheikh in his autobiography, while writing about his political adversaries, has used indecorous language as against Geelani who has used a decent language while talking about political leaders he did not agree with, including Sheikh Abdullah. The book is laced with quotes from works of Maududi and poetry of Iqbal. This autobiography, which gives a kaleidoscopic view of the most important and critical period of Kashmir, is important and   needs to be read.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)