Geelani’s resignation from APHC-G: not an aberration but a part of Hurriyat Culture
Since 1987, the pro resistance leadership has formed numerous amalgams to jointly struggle for the political cause but the inherent fissures have always resulted in disintegration. Haseeb Abdullah writes about these events and concludes Syed Ali Geelani has emerged with more popularity after each controversial disintegration of any amalgam.
In a recent development, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the nonagenarian resistance leader in Kashmir resigned from his post as chief of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). In his two page letter, he informed the member constituents of APHC-G that he is resigning from the lifetime chairmanship of the amalgam. He complained about the leaders who were not arrested and were thus expected to lead the people but did not respond to the calls of Geelani despite his frequent requests. He also mentioned complaints of financial irregularities, self-promotion, nepotism and infighting against some Pakistan-based members. Despite failing health conditions and continuous incarceration, he expressed his will to continue to fight against what calls ‘Indian Imperialism’. He asked his member constituents to decide for themselves.
Looking at the past, Hurriyat in Kashmir has always been fraught with internal disturbances and conflicts. There has always been a trust deficit and mutual bickering. A G Noorani, once noted, ‘The united APHC, as well as its two squabbling progeny, have revealed themselves to be incompetent in evolving any policy that made sense; a strategy which could accomplish their objectives, and tactics which could reasonably be expected to yield results’.
The wrap up of the Muslim United Front, as Masood Hussain notes, tells the story of the past. Hussain writes that Jamaat e Islami Jammu and Kashmir supported the making of MUF an all inclusive organisation but was gradually elbowed out becoming a choked organisation. When the MUF legislators were on an official visit to Goa, Awami National Conference and Ummat e Islami issued show-cause notices to them which were plain mudslinging, he notes. On June 11, 1988, Ansari, at the peak of the agitation at Srinagar expelled the Jamaat and all four lawmakers from MUF including Abdul Gani Bhat. The later termed it unconstitutional. This difference buried the parallel fractions of MUF forever. In his autobiography, Wular Kinare, Syed Ali Geelani notes this incident and says that when he was the Member of and Kashmir Legislative Assembly as a Muslim United Front candidate, one fine day, Congress and National Conference taunted him saying, ‘You have been expelled from the Membership of Muslim United Front, what is your status now?’ Their expulsion, he adds, was the outcome of the dictatorship of Maulana Abas Ansari, in league with Political Conference and Peoples’ Conference. This division, Geelani writes, damaged the integrity of the forum. This incident gives a sense of division in the resistance politics from its very inception and reveals much about the behaviour of Hurriyat politics from the days of MUF.
The internal divide in Hurriyat reflected the nature of leadership. They have been repugnant to unity and cohesion. In the early nineties, when Geelani along with Abdul Gani Lone, Abdul Gani Bhat, Maulana Abas Ansari, and Shabir Ahmad Shah was in jail, people hoped that jail life may unify the leadership. However, there was no unity among them, says Geelani in his biography. He writes that the main lacuna of Hurriyat leadership was the lack of discipline.
In a meeting, that Geelani cites, Maulana Abas Ansari made the opening remarks saying, ‘neither of us is Imam (Leader) nor are we the Muqtadi (followers)’. In its context, Geelani wrote, ‘a nation whose leaders lack discipline cannot lead the nation’. With this division in ranks, people used to call them, ‘Panj Pyare’. The ugliness of the situation has been mentioned in his book, ‘Qisa’e Dard’, wherein he writes, ‘All our group leaders were leaders on their own. There were no followers. People may rightfully deduce that if these five men cannot hold prayers together, how come they lead a divided nation?’
The most prominent divide took place in 2003 when Geelani went for a vertical split in Hurriyat after he came out from the jail. He accused other Hurriyat leaders of dubious role in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Elections 2002, for not running an anti-election campaign. He demanded action against Peoples’ Conference for participating in elections covertly. As he parted ways, Abbas Ansari, the then Chairman of Hurriyat said, “He (Geelani) has driven a wedge in the Hurriyat for personal gains. How can a partyless fellow lead an alliance of parties? He does not belong to any party.” In response, Geelani said, “People know which is the real Hurriyat and they will come to know more through our deeds.” Both the groups claimed leadership and the representative character.
In 2012, when Mirwaiz was confronted at a civil society roundtable by people asking him that Shabir Shah has disappeared from his forum, Muhammad Yasin Malik is untraceable and Syed Ali Shah Geelani is heading a rival Hurriyat faction, who was he going to represent on his visit to Pakistan. He responded saying that Hurriyat wants total accord and unity in the Kashmiri leadership, but movements around the world are a witness that differences over strategies are inevitable, the movement cannot be held hostage to the beautiful word of unity.
In 2014, the Mirwaiz faction split and Shabir Ahmad Shah, Nayeem Ahmad Khan, Mohammad Azam Inqlabi Mohammad Yousuf Naqash left the amalgam. The estranged members accused Mirwiaz of advocating secret talks and violating 1993 constitution. Later, when Shabir Shah reportedly made attempts to unite the Hurriyats, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat rejected the attempts and said, “We do not accept any mediation or unity bid initiated by Shah, who had years ago quit the APHC. We treat him as a nonentity because he could not hold together the Peoples’ League, which he had founded in Kashmir.” The list of accusations and counter-accusations adds up with every new division in the Kashmir’s resistance politics.
In his book, Mass Resistance in Kashmir, Tahir Amin writes, “APHC has a semblance of consensus but there are genuine suspicions among its various constituents about its future direction. The main reason for this suspicion has been relatively greater importance given to organisations who have sided with Indian puppet regimes in the past and lesser weight to those organisations who have been at the forefront of the struggle for decades. The overriding fear of many Kashmiri leaders has been that India may try to hijack the political leadership in the name of the political process, thus creating more divisions in the resistance.”
In 2015, Asiya Andrabi, Chairperson, Dukhtaran-i-Millat, Asiya Andrabi while speaking at a seminar entitled ‘New Challenges to Resistance Movement’ at Srinagar told Hurriyat leaders, ‘India is one from Kanya Kumari to Lakhanpur to change the demography of the state and how can a divided leadership from Lakhanpur to Uri here counter the move. Unity among the leadership ranks is warranted to undo any anti-movement move from India.
A month later, for the first time since 2008, Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chairman Yasin Malik shared the stage at a rally in Narbal and addressed people. In their speeches, Geelani said, “We may be separate but we have a unity of thought”, Mirwaiz said, “people of Kashmir are united in pursuing their goal and mission of martyrs” and Malik said, “it is time for pro-freedom camp to stand united.” This shows that the call for unity was a divided call.
Any slogans of unity in Hurriyat ranks only meant to join their own platform. To quote, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, who urged all the resistance leaders and parties to join the Hurriyat led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and stated, “let there be one single platform and a joint strategy so that we march ahead collectively.’
In Kashmir politics, Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest cadre-based organisation now banned under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, has also struggled with the unity disunity conflict of resistance politics. Though its leadership maintains that they have always been supporters of the unity among the separatist camp, it has continued to shift positions from one post to another.
Despite divisions, the resistance leadership across the ideological divide represents a major political constituency in J&K , which will likely remain relevant for as long as the issue is not resolved, wrote Muzammil Jaleel in Indian Express.
To put Geelani in the perspective of the divided lot, history tells us that Geelani became more relevant with time, and divisions only enhanced his prominence. He earned popular faith and exercised more power.
Geelani single handledly challenged Musharraf’s four-point formula at a time when Mirwaiz faction was favoured by both India and Pakistan and was given a central role in Kashmir. Despite being an ardent supporter of Pakistan, Geelani vehemently opposed Musharraf calling his formula, “a surrender”. This, as a consequence, marginalised Mirwaiz faction as they failed to deliver on the ground, writes Muzamil Jaleel.
In 2016, a Telegraph Opinion piece talked about Geelani’s singular power and wrote, ‘there is a government here (in Kashmir), we are told on good authority. There is a counter-government that is authority itself. The Establishment does still have the throne, but it’s strapped to it; the anarch is the monarch, possessed of both writ and rein’. Geelani ‘wields prolonged defiance of the Constitution and all the power’, it wrote. Caravan called him, ‘the man who says no to Delhi ‘.
Kashmir’s resistance polity has been abhorrent to discipline and yet Geelani has emerged as a decisive leader. So far, he has always emerged with strength after every divide. People instilled faith in him and found him vindicated. When Mirwaiz who once shouted, ‘who the hell is Geelani’?, went to work with him and form JRL, it was seen by many as means for his restoration of credibility as he had told NDTV in an interview that his participation in dialogue with non-serious Delhi has cost him credibility. Sajad Lone, who swore on Quran challenging Geelani’s credibility, lost his own when he betrayed his father’s flock and opted for a pro-BJP stance. People coined slogans like Kirdar ka Ghazi: Geelani and Jis Hurriyat main Geelani nahi, Woh Hurriyat Manzoor nahin, making Geelani far bigger a figure than people around him.
With this background, the new division that emerged this week did not surprise many who are aware of Kashmir’s polity. They knew about fissures in the leadership, therefore they began to interpret it. Though Delhi sees the death of resistance movement in every division in Hurriyat leadership, for Kashmiris it has become a part of Hurriyat’s culture. Interpreting Geelani’s retreat from APHC-G, some described it as a mark of foreclosure of any option of compromise or dialogue and passage of the baton to leadership to youth. Others interpreted it as a signal to address the issues within Hurriyat which was very much in the pipeline. Indian Express quoted sources saying that the unfolding of events on the ground, since August 5, 2019, suggest that the next leader may be younger in age, an unknown probable. Opinions varied and will only settle with time. The fans of Geelani quote Nelson Mandella saying, ‘As a leader, one must sometimes take actions that are unpopular, or whose results will not be known for years to come. There are victories whose glory lies only in the fact that they are known to those who win them’.
Whatever may be the outcome of his siding ways from the amalgam, it is understood that the making and breaking of alliances have become a part of Kashmir’s resistance culture. Geelani, thus far, has emerged to higher echelons through the same terrain.
Will unity ever represent the resistance politics in Kashmir? That is yet to be seen.
The author is a Ph.D. student at the Centre of Advanced Study, Department of History, Aligarh Muslims University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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