Demise of a hardliner
Syed Ali Shah Geelani's death marks the end of a chapter in separatist movements in Jammu & Kashmir. The movement which was already in tatters after the abrogation of Article 370 has now lost the protective umbrella of its patriarch — though only a symbolic one. Many factions of separatists may differ in view with that of Geelani but his unbending posture was a symbol of strength — acceptable or otherwise. The basic tenets of Geelani's five-decade-long political career — which included three terms as an elected legislator from north Kashmir's Sopore — have largely remained constant. The pro-Pakistan ideologue always advocated the integration of Kashmir with Pakistan. Post-independence, Kashmir has been an integral part of India and, after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, India's position seems to be more consolidated. The reality today is not quite like what Geelani wanted to shape. But this does not discredit his legacy. Contrarian views in a democracy are as important as the dominant or prevailing views. The reality at a particular point in time may be inclined towards one axis, but the shaping of that reality is the result of tension between the prevailing and contrarian views. Thus, the contrarian views — however extreme — must be given due importance. The strength of a politician must be gauged with their political steadfastness and allegiance towards any particular ideology. It is this loyalty towards his ideology that has earned Geelani the prominence he claims today. It will, in fact, not be completely fair to term him as pro-Pakistan — though his words and actions favour that country. His allegiance was towards his ideology (and not Pakistan) that made him inclined towards Pakistan. During the late 1990s, he had called for Pakistani support to help Kashmiris in the process of jihad. Geelani viewed Delhi as introducing Hinduism to Kashmir which he perceived as being dangerous for the demographic fabric of the state. For him, Muslims living amongst Hindus was as difficult as "for a fish to stay alive in a desert". Geelani's view of Islam transcended the boundaries of religion and merged into the notions of political order. He was a hardliner in his own right. His views in a secular country like India were not only contradicted in terms of the ends that he wanted to achieve but also the means that were so intrinsic to his ideology — the means of militancy and armed uprising. A method that his successors will take to the next level — much to his disappointment in his late eighties. Though for much of his political career, Geelani had been an advertent supporter of militancy — changing parties whenever those deflected from the idea of militancy. From his early inclination towards the left-leaning National Conference to his Association with Jamaat-e-Islami which was said to be preparing grounds for a latent uprising after the Partition and independence, and also to the Hurriyat, Geelani's core beliefs had been intact. He was sidelined from the Jamaat in the late 1990s which, at that time, moved towards the trend of moderation. Ultimately, he parted ways with Jamaat-e-Islami in 2004 — a year after he had dissociated himself from Hurriyat Conference for the same reasons. Geelani then formed Tehreek-e-Hurriyat with which he disassociated himself lately after the abrogation of Article 370. The Centre had successfully nipped in bud any attempts by the separatists to incite armed resistance against the abrogation of Article 370. During his last days, Geelani was going through multiple ailments including lung disease, which compounded the pain of his decade-long house detention. Irrespective of the political and religious views he held, Syed Ali Shah Geelani represented an ideology firmly all throughout his political career and held that symbolic height even during his last days. He had been the unwavering face of the separatist movement all throughout. Though the movement is perceived to be fading into dusk and stands contrary to prevailing reality, Geelani still has a legacy of his own that needs to be revered (though his views may be subject to argument). One of the most contradicted voices would now lay restfully in grave with the contentment that it never toned itself down in compromise.