SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir
Days after stepping down as head of the biggest pro-freedom alliance in Jammu and Kashmir, ailing Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Geelani has issued a stand-alone protest program.
A press release issued in his name and shared on social media asked Kashmiris to observe a strike on July 8, the death anniversary of iconic young militant commander Burhan Wani who was killed in 2016, triggering months of protests.
The statement also called for a strike on July 13, the day 23 Kashmiri Muslims were gunned down in 1931 by soldiers of the last autocratic ruler of Jammu and Kashmir outside a jail in the region’s capital Srinagar. Until last year, July 13 was an official holiday but was canceled by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In the wake of his resignation, Geelani addressed more than a dozen social, political and religious organizations of the Hurriyat Conference in a letter, citing several recent organizational decisions taken without his approval and abdication of responsibility as key reasons behind his decision.
Pro-freedom leadership in Kashmir has been in disarray since April last year, when hundreds of leaders and activists were arrested and jailed in various Indian cities. The 90-year-old Geelani himself has been under house detention for the better part of the past decade.
In his letter, Geelani said he was only parting ways with the Hurriyat and would continue to lead the struggle for liberation from Indian rule. Along with jailed Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of his own faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Geelani was a member of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), who used to steer the agitational aspect of the movement. The JRL often issued protest calendars and programs.
Sheikh Showkat Hussain, former academic and expert on the Kashmiri conflict, told Anadolu Agency that Geelani was probably not satisfied with the leaders he had entrusted to steer the movement after Aug. 5, when India scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status.
“By issuing a call for strike as an individual, I think he has signaled that he will go solo. Probably because after so many months, the people he relied on fell short of his expectations,” said Hussain.
Given Geelani’s deteriorating health, questions have been raised whether his resignation was solely his own decision or that of those around him and whether it was triggered by differences within the alliance or by the crucial question of who would succeed him.
Requesting to remain anonymous, a prominent member of Hurriyat told Anadolu Agency that it would be “premature to say anything definitively” until the constituents held a meeting with Geelani in person.
“Geelani Sahab has a knack for steering things in difficult situations. We aren’t being allowed to meet him, nor is he available on the phone. So, I’d say we should wait,” he said.
A group of police officers permanently stationed outside Geelani’s house do not allow anyone inside except his closest family members. His family members, especially his two sons, do not hold any official position in Hurriyat to comment on the issues. As many as 35 reporters were barred from attending a press conference Geelani had called at his official residence in Srinagar on Sept. 18, 2019.
– Police dismiss statement
Police on Tuesday have claimed that the protest call had not been issued by Geelani, but from Pakistan. Citing Geelani’s “family sources,” they said the statement was “fake” and warned of “action against those circulating it on social media.”
The police also lodged a complaint against social media users for circulating the letter.
“Further investigation is in progress,” the regional police said on Twitter.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Geelani’s representative in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir denied the claim, saying the statement was legitimate and released by the Kashmiri leader.
“The local administration is pressuring his [Syed Ali Geelani] family to call it fake. But, they have told the police to confirm it from me as I only am authorized to confirm its genuineness,” Abdullah Geelani said.
Commenting on the strike call, local BJP spokesman, Altaf Thakur, told Anadolu Agency that Syed Ali Geelani was “only trying to regain relevance through the failed politics of strikes and protests.”
“I don’t think people would be interested in this politics anymore. Perhaps he has realized the futility of pursuing the struggle for so-called Azadi [freedom]. Youth have rejected stone pelting. They are interested in jobs,” Thakur said.
– Disputed region
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965, and 1971 — two of them over Kashmir.
Also, in Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.
*Nusrat Sidiq from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, contributed to this story
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