From Sheikh Abdullah to SAS Geelani – Symbols of resistance or instruments of decay

S. A. Geelani stuck to election boycott policy not because there was any logic to it, but because of the fact that Kashmir's never actually forgave him for taking part in election-1972 over the head of PF.

When he was a junior in the Jamati-Islami, Syed Ali Geelani contested Legislative Assembly elections in 1972 and turned out, quite unexpectedly, to be one of the five JI candidates who made it to the Assembly. This five-seat win by JI was something out of the ordinary given the fact that elections, including this one, as later admitted by the then Chief Minister Mir Qasim (pp.335-7 Dastani-Hayat Syed Mir Qasim), used to be shamelessly rigged by the establishment. Also out of the ordinary was the fact that no one ever understood the political philosophy of JI: why they contested elections; and, what did they want to achieve thereby. Their participation could not have been motivated by a desire to highlight Kashmir Issue in the Assembly in which case they would not have flown over the heads of Plebiscite Front and plebiscite slogan. Chief Minister Mir Qasim’s purpose was to keep PF leaders and workers at bay so that he could manipulate election results. So he took JI for a ride. By participating in such a rigged process, JI lent legitimacy to it.

Necessary to mention is the fact that the PF leaders paid only superficial service to the plebiscite theme without actually believing in it. The tragic fault of PF workers was that they failed to see through the motives of their leaders.

In 1975 Sheikh Abdullah entered into a Faustian agreement with India. He dumped the plebiscite slogan. In return Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India appointed him Chief Minister of Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah gave a written undertaking that he accepted Kashmir as an integral part of India. Syed Ali Geelani accused/accuses Sheikh Abdullah of a sell-out forgetting that JI had also accepted in 1972 what Sheikh Abdullah accepted through 1975-Kashmir Accord. S. A. Geelani remained part of the establishment right up to August 1989. He resigned from the membership of the Assembly ostensibly in protest against election rigging. The truth was he resigned because JKLF issued a threat-to-kill warning against Muslim United Front members of the Assembly. Election rigging had taken place in March 1987. S. A. Geelani, who won his seat then and joined the Assembly, continued to be its member for over two years before resigning, made rigging an excuse.

With the inception of armed revolt led by JKLF against India the pro-India political parties (which soon came to be described as “mainstream” to differentiate them from “separatist” ones that mushroomed quickly in coming days) received a severe blow. It seemed that “azadi” was around the corner and, therefore, “mainstream” politics was nearing its end. Around this time S. A. Geelani, among others, proved to be a master of realpolitik. Politics being the art of making a U-turn at right time, S. A. Geelani staged a U-turn. He turned a “separatist”. Soon JI followed suit putting on the mantle of Hizbul-mujahideen patron.

S. A. Geelani’s popularity skyrocketed in 2003 when he refused to toe President General Musharaf’s line. The latter wanted an agreement with India on Kashmir to end his own and his country’s isolation on the international front. His government sidelined S. A. Geelani and de-escalated cross-LoC infiltration. By 2007 the “separatist” camp seemed to have lost its sheen. Two events, however, brought “separatists” in the limelight again. Musharaf’s own downfall which resulted in the dumping of his much touted but vague Four Point Formula; and the 2008-Amarnath Land Row that brought the whole of Kashmir Valley on roadsides to protest the allotment of ecologically fragile forest land to Amarnath Shrine Board for raising constructions. At this moment Geelani faction of Hurriyat Conference, that had been sidelined by General Musharaf, and the Mirwaiz faction of Hurriyat Conference, who were hand in glove with the General, vied with each other, even forged a sort of “fake” unity, in “hijacking” what was a spontaneous mass uprising against what was suspected to be the first step towards settling non-State Subjects (non-Permanent Residents) in Kashmir. Valley people are very sensitive on the issue of settlement of outsiders in Kashmir State. They cooled off only when the land allotment was cancelled by Chief Minister Azad.

Post-1988 when the armed revolt got going the “separatists” gave a call to boycott the 1989-Indian general elections. After a long spell of President’s rule, elections were held in Kashmir in 1996. Although JKLF had given up armed struggle they did not even think of election participation. In fact, even their survival was in danger at the hands of the forces unleashed by the armed revolt which JKLF could not control. (Mid-1990s JI cadres were the chief target of the strong arm of the establishment and the renegade forces called Ikhwanis. So the instinct of self-preservation got the better of JI and they announced their disconnection with militancy in 1997).

The 1996 elections once again set up NC monopoly on “mainstream” politics. In order to erode that monopoly New Delhi funded and guided the emergence of a counterpoise in the form of Mufti Sayeed-led PDP in 1998-99. Many in Kashmir accused JI (and Hizbul Mujahideen) of having facilitated the emergence of this new “mainstream” party. PDP came to power in 2002 thanks primarily to the boycott call given by S. A. Geelani and seconded, although halfheartedly, by others. Boycott kept opponents of “mainstream” parties at bay.

Amarnath Land Row of 2008 gave birth to new “rivalries” and “friendships” in the “mainstream” camp. All political pandits of Kashmir, having seen the anger that Kashmiris expressed against the allotment of forest land to the Shrine Board, thought that the latter would now boycott elections. They were proved wrong when people of Kashmir, except those of Srinagar city, participated. Although PDP improved on its seat score it was shunted. NC and Congress Party formed a coalition government.  When in 1972 some PF leaders like Mohiuddin Qarra and Moulana Masoodi decided to contest elections, the ruling Congress Party had to place them behind bars because the Chief Minister was sure of defeat – (this is what he later wrote: “It was clear that chances for victory of Congress Party against the Plebiscite Front would be bleak if elections were held in a free and fair manner” ibid). 1996 onward the “separatists” helped the establishment through election boycott calls in keeping anti-establishment elements at bay.

S. A. Geelani stuck to election boycott policy not because there was any logic to it, but because of the fact that Kashmir’s never actually forgave him for taking part in election-1972 over the head of PF. Otherwise many, if not all, Kashmir’s, including myself, see no problem with election participation if done to highlight Kashmir Issue, whatever the oath one may be constrained to take.

Establishment considers the participation of pro-self-determination elements in provincial Legislative Assembly elections as dangerous. It prefers boycott by such elements as boycott ensures walk-over to its own darlings, called the ‘mainstream”. It does not, however, mind participation by such elements in local bodies or Indian general elections. In 1968 PF (barring Munshi Mohammad Ishaq) supported candidates contesting local bodies’ elections. In 1971 Shamim Ahmad Shamim contested Parliamentary election as an independent candidate. He enjoyed full support of the PF patron Sheikh Abdullah. But in 1972 they incarcerated pro-Legislative-Assembly-election participation PF leaders. So it is the provincial Assembly elections that really matter in Kashmir.

Sheikh Abdullah-led rejectionist election boycott policy helped ruling NC in 1960s to abolish the institutions of Sadri-Riyasat and Prime Minister; and to confer powers on New Delhi to impose President’s rule on Kashmir; and even to merge itself into the “hated” Congress. Congress was so “hated” that the dead relatives of Congress supporters were refused burial. S. A.S Geelani’s rejectionist boycott policy will pave the way for coming into existence of an uncontested Assembly dominated by “hated” BJP who might empower the President of India to abrogate Articles 35A and 370 of the Constitution of India to pave the way for merger of Kashmir with India and for abolition of State Subject/Permanent Residency Laws.

Just as the “hated” Congress became a fait accompli in Kashmir so much so that Sheikh Abdullah accepted leadership its MLAs in 1975 to become CM; and no one remembered the sacrifices of PF workers. So will BJP become a fait accompli after a couple of years; no one will remember the boys who lay down their precious lives these days. 2008 onward S. A. Geelani mastered the art of reactionary politics. Whenever men in uniform violated human rights – and they did that frequently – he called for hartal (strike) or chalo (protest march). This is not to say that hartal and chalo were invented that year. This is to say that since 2008 hartal and chalo were converted into chief means of conducting resistance. On such occasions the establishment would respond by imposing restriction on the movement of people especially in the downtown area of Srinagar city. When in 2009 the men in uniform raped and murdered two young ladies in Shopian; and bulleted about 110 teenagers in early 2010, hartal and chalo became a systematic practice to react against establishment’s repression so much so that people soon stopped taking hartal-chalo seriously except in the areas around Jama Masjid.

Sometime after 2013 cross-LoC infiltration escalated again. Simultaneously South Kashmir experienced a transformation which was not much noticed in early stages. Previously people would run away from encounter sites. But now they rushed toward encounter sites to engage armed forces attention by raising slogans and throwing stones. This helped fireworks men to sneak out of the cordon and get away. However, in the battle between stone pelting people and heavily armed counterinsurgency forces, civilians sustained bullet and pellet injuries, some in the eyes; and some outright lost their lives. Loss of civilian life provided a justification to call for hartal-chalo. This phenomenon received a boost post-Burhan killing in July 2016. For now, the resistance is all about hartal-chalo.

Even as Sheikh Abdullah was/is credited with abolishing landed feudalism (zamini jagirdari), people in Kashmir scarcely take notice of the political feudalism (siyasi jagirdari) that he set up in its place. He personalized politics and converted NC and PF into his personal fiefdoms (jagir). Politics in Kashmir became an affair mainly concerned with running personal political parties. Thus he became an instrument of political decay in Kashmir. So long as he lived, he was the most prominent political feudal lord (siyasi jagirdar), the Big Man, of Kashmir politics. Future generations inherited from him a culture of political feudal-lordism and decadence. Instead of correcting this phenomenon, the “mainstream” who professed to be his followers, and the “separatists”, who ostensibly rejected him, but who actually followed him in practice, wallowed in this political feudal-lordism and decadence. Like the Sheikh, every demagogue personalized politics with the result every political party became a personal fiefdom of one or the other of these political feudal lords. As of now there are more than 50 such fiefdoms, “mainstream” as well as “separatist”, spread across the political spectrum in Kashmir.

Often political demagogues suffer incarceration and other inconveniences at the hands of the establishment. Sheikh Abdullah suffered years in detention pre- and post-1947. It is now easy to infer that suffering at the hands of the establishment was not his sacrifice but political investment. At the end of both the phases of fake resistance (which was, admittedly, awaragardi, wastage of time) he became part of the same establishment and instrument of repression.

Political stagnation signifies political decay. Political change signifies political development. As of now Kashmir needs to make an exit out of political stagnation which in my opinion could be effected by setting up of an impersonal cadre-based political party committed to a pro-active but non-violent struggle for resolution of Kashmir Issue. Big Men political feudal lords never allow second rung leaders to emerge. They personalize political parties and convert them into fiefdoms to be passed on to sons and daughters as patrimony. In such a state of political affairs politicians who look like symbols of resistance are actually demagogues and instruments of political decay.
The day Kashmir sets up impersonal political set-up it would have taken a step towards political development. Otherwise Kashmir will continue to reel under the heels of political feudal lords and Kashmiris will continue to be political serfs. Serfs may die by the dozen, feudal lords wouldn’t care. In fact feudal mentality signifies that a serf’s death should contribute to the wellbeing of the feudal lord. If Kashmiris allow such a state of political affairs to continue, they will remain blind serfs even after “azadi”, if at all “azadi” comes their way.

Ashiq Hussain

Ashiq Hussain is a columnist and historian currently based in Indian Administrated Kashmir and has written three books on the Kashmir conflict. The right to publish this article is forbidden without the permission of the Author.






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