Tawseef Ahmad Mir
Since the annulment of the “special status” of Jammu and Kashmir, both the anti as well as pro India leadership were either house arrested or put behind bars to preclude any resistance against the Centre’s move in August last year. Decrees with grave consequences for the beleaguered people of Kashmir were thus easily railroaded through the power corridors and imposed. It in this context that people had been anxiously waiting to hear from nonagenarian Syed Ali Geelani, who has not been keeping well over the years. Many people had erroneously assumed that Geelani had vanished into political obscurity as he had kept quiet since August last year. The long wait finally came to an end when he suddenly decided to call it quits with the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), an alliance of pro-freedom and pro-Pakistan groups.
Geelani seems to have stirred a hornet’s nest with his resignation from the APHC, setting off a wider debate on resistance politics itself. His resignation letter was widely shared on social media in which he cited a number of reasons that forced him to part ways with the alliance. One of the reasons mentioned was the silence of some APHC leaders across the border at this critical juncture and their inability to rise to the occasion and lead and guide the people. It appears to this author, on a careful reading of the letter, to be the immediate cause of both his indignation and resignation from the amalgam. It is not the scope of this article to go into the contents of the letter, rather I will try to call a certain section of peoples’ bluff and dispel their outrageous, ridiculous, and unfounded claims regarding Geelani.
Geelani is undoubtedly a “charismatic leader” if we try to locate him in Max Weber’s leadership/ authority theory. According to Weber, there are three types of authorities that define leadership. The first is traditional leadership, which derives its authority from the customs of the age and traditional values. Another is charismatic leadership, which comes from a person who has certain traits that sets him apart from the others. He defines it as, “A particular quality of a person on the basis of which he is distinguished from ordinary people and endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least exceptional personal qualities.”Further, charisma according to the Cambridge Dictionary means, “A special power that some people have naturally that makes them able to influence other people and attract their attention and admiration.” Thus, by dint of his sheer charisma, a charismatic leader is able to hold his followers in awe and rally them toward a certain cause. The third kind of authority is legal rational. It is based on “clearly defined laws and rules.” People in this case obey and respect not the leader but the office/ institution.
Geelani is an open book. He represents every oppressed Kashmiri, his aspirations, and his anxieties. To appreciate his charisma, one just needs to remember how in every crisis that threatened us before, and in the present one that has the potential to upend us completely, people were anxiously looking to him. It was Geelani who would nudge us from our slumber whenever the oppressive state was up to something sinister.
Geelani is the symbol of rebellion for oppressed Kashmiris. He stood steadfast and defiant when challenged by the circumstances, and continues to do so with grace, in the face of India’s military might, and despite many assassination attempts on him. He held to his ground like a true rebel even when India tried every Machiavellian trick either to bring him to his knees or to win him over to their side. Since 2010, he has been mostly under house arrest. Before that he had spent a good part of his life in captivity, which took a heavy toll on his health. In the dungeons, he was reportedly offered the chief minister’s chair if he gave up his support for Kashmir’s freedom or its merger with Pakistan. However, being the true son of the soil, he has never vacillated from his demands for right to self-determination so that people of Kashmir decide themselves their future. He may have become bodily weak owing to old age and many ailments, but his devotion to the cause is still unwavering at a time when so many notoriously fickle self-styled leaders have no qualms about joining the BJP-RSS bandwagon. Geelani’s words would go down in history in golden letters: “Even if India paves our roads with gold and diamond instead of coal tar, we [the people of Kashmir] are not going to give up our inalienable right to self-determination.”
However, his sincerity towards the movement has really been a pain for the turncoats. I fail to understand why they made a mountain out of a molehill about his resignation letter. The lackeys took no time to denigrate him on as simple a thing as resignation. Preying on every opportunity to weaken the movement internally, they have been hand in glove with authorities in inflicting untold miseries on the people. They do not miss out on any opportunity to cash in on peoples’ tragedies, and milk the prevailing conflict for all its worth. It is disgusting to see their brazen audacity.
Geelani is certainly not above the movement, which has been continuously nourished by the blood of thousands of people. If someone has the right to question him, it has to be the kith and kin of those who have sacrificed. It has to be relatives of those cast in dungeons and the relatives of pellet victims. It has to be the kith and kin of those buried in unmarked graves and those who left their hearth but never came back. They, and only they, have the moral right to ask him questions on ideological and tactical grounds. However, to read too much into the resignation letter’s plain Urdu, and accuse him of a sell-out is totally uncalled for.
Another bizarre argument which they brought into the discussion on Geelani is his son’s educational and professional background. When one fails to make a mark in any field, it is only natural to envy the success of others. It is every father’s right to raise his kids the way he likes. So has Geelani. His kids do not necessarily have to follow in his footsteps. Let me cite the example of the children of two famous leaders: Jawaharlal Nehru and Nelson Mandela.
Nehru, who together with Gandhi and others fought for the freedom of India, was educated in England. While he was leading India’s freedom struggle against the British, his daughter, Indira, who later on would become India’s only woman prime minister, was studying in Oxford. Nehru’s followers didn’t question him on his choice of his daughter’s college. Mandela, too, faced immense injustices in the struggle against racial segregation. Two of his daughters –Makaziwe Mandela and Zenani Mandela – earned their doctorates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both later on served South Africa in different capacities. People didn’t object to Mandela letting his daughters go different ways than his own.
There are numerous examples where children of freedom fighters charted out their course themselves. Their parents still won what they stood up for. It happens only in this part of the planet that if a resistance leader’s son/ daughter happens to be a government employee, his leadership credentials are doubted. We all have weaknesses embedded in us in one way or the other. Any leader including Geelani is no exception. It is morally reprehensible to find a fault in someone’s personhood so that you can twist it to suit your narratives. Actions speak louder than words. Geelani’s personal life is an open book, acknowledged even by his staunchest political rivals. The best judge are the people. They see through things with an eagle’s eye, and can easily sift chaff from the wheat. Let us leave it to them to decide who is a saviour and who a traitor.
Even at the fag end of his life, Geelani has vowed to uphold what he has cherished all his life. This grandfatherly concern for Kashmir speaks volumes about his character. He combines magnetic charisma, indomitable spirit, and a dogged resolve, always a dangerous mix to shake the powers that be.
May God bless Bab!
The writer is a research scholar at CCAS, University of Kashmir.