Syed Ali Shah Geelani, decided to step aside and passed on the baton of the Tahreek Hurriyat to his second in command Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai. On the expected lines, the decision taken at a Shoora meeting of the Tahreek Hurriyat made it to headlines in the newspapers across the sub-continent. The decision caused some columns and news analysis in some prominent newspapers in the state and New Deli and set abuzz some television studios with discussions on the implications of the decision on the ongoing ‘resistance movement.’ Some anchors known for denouncing Syed Ali Geelani as hardcore and extremists saw it as a major paradigm shift in the “separatists” politics of the state that could yield space for the moderate voices far becoming louder. Nonetheless, many a commentators and most of the anchors confused the Tahreek Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (G) – of which Tahreek Hurriyat Conference is a constituents.
The nonagenarian leader, who for past many decades has been internationally most prominent public face of the struggle for right to self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir, has simultaneously been wearing three hats. He is Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference (G), Chairman, the Tahreek Hurriyat and senior member of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). Since alliance of resistance leadership at top in the wake of June 2016 protests came into being, the acronym JRL, a way has been symbolizing the unity of thought and ideas in the ‘resistance leadership’- something that had been missing since long.
For the media, the decision of Geelani to step aside was an important news. In fact, the debate over the subject after Geelani who had first become an important topic for newspapers and political analysts in 2002. In that year, he was diagnosed with cancer in one of his kidneys. Second time in 2007, the debate had become shriller when he was again diagnosed with cancer in his second kidney. And his doctors had advised him for going to the USA for treatment. The then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had taken a personal interest in seeing an international passport issued to him. Nonetheless, the USA government had denied him a visa for his statement against the policy of President Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There were widespread reports at that time that an agreement on the lines of four-point formula on Kashmir had reached to a final stage and it was just signed. Interestingly and callously, a couple of leaders averse to Geelani’s stand on Musharraf formula had seen his illness as a silver-lining for the resolutions of Kashmir problem. He survived deadly cancer and the debate over who succeeds him also died down. During the 2016 intifada, when selective leaks were made that the ailing Hurriyat (G) leader had alleged dementia, once again the question about his successor entered the public discourse, and selectively some names from his family had popped up in the social media as his successor. The stories about his dementia and retirement after the 2016-Intifada relegating to pages of history also proved to be a figment of imagination.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani has not retired from the political struggle that he has been in the vanguard for past many decades. Nevertheless, he has only handed over the reins of the Tahreek Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir, one of top resistance leader of long standing, with his ideological grounding in the Jammat-e-Islami. Taking a retirement from the struggle and handing over baton to of an important organization- in fact, an important bastion of the Hurriyat (G) to comparatively younger leader are not comparable. Those analysts and commentators or anchors who have construed abdicating of the top slot of the Tahreek Hurriyat by Geelani in favor of the General Secretary of the organization as change of guard of the Hurriyat Conference (G) are factually incorrect.
The sagging energy, of ageing Geelani, seems more than obvious reason for his stepping aside and appointing as Chairman of the Tahreek Hurriyat – an important cadre based organization that in a way has been working as ideological bastion for the Hurriyat (G). To understand importance of Tahreek Hurriyat to the Hurriyat (G) narrative, one need to go into genesis of this organization and its laid out objectives and if these are different from the mother organization of Syed Ali Geelani, Ashraf Sehrai. And lots of Tahreek Hurriyat cadres. In 2002, after the state assembly elections, along with some other leaders he was released from the jail. On his release, he accused the People Conference, one of the constituents of the APHC of fielding proxy candidates and called for expulsion of its leader from the multi-party combine. The Hurriyat did not accept his demand, he broke away and formed his faction. In the Hurriyat Executive, Geelani represented the Jammat-I-Islamia- he was heading its political wing of the organization.
In 2004, for differences with the Jammat, he bid adieu to it after four and half decades. The Tahreek Hurriyat was launched on 7 August 2004. On its first anniversary, at a massive public gathering at Hyderpora, it announced “Islam, Freedom’ and Unity of Muslims” as its three objectives. On 6, August 2006 at a convention of basic members of the party, all the three identified objectives were explained. Moreover, subsequently Chairman of the Tahreek, Syed Ali Shah Geelani published a 78 page booklet, laced with quotes from the Holy Quran, and he in greater depth explained every article of faith of the organization. Out, of the three objectives, the two are totally in sync with the Jammat-I-Islamia ideology. Nonetheless, it is the second objective, ‘Azadi’ that gives an insight into the political ideology of the organization. Explaining, the party’s idea of Azadi, the booklet traces the history of Kashmir problem but it in concrete terms it says nothing about the political freedom.
Notwithstanding, Syed Ali Geelani having abdicated the Tahreek Hurriyat, he is there and even if he decides to step down as chairman of the Hurriyat (G), he will be there like wheel bound Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin of Palestine till the last day.