Oct. 4: Syed Ali Shah Geelani was released from a 235-day-old home confinement last week when the police contingent deployed outside his Srinagar residence was withdrawn and a makeshift security camp to enforce ‘house arrest’ orders on him disappeared all night. The octogenarian leader is currently touring various parts of Kashmir Valley to reconnect with the people with his long-standing viewpoint “elections held under the framework of Indian Constitution aren’t and can’t be substitute to the promised right to self-determination.”
The campaign was picked up from his hometown Sopore on last Friday, an auspicious day for Muslims, and apparently with the purpose of making his perspective stronger and leave no illusion in anybody’s mind he also chose to visit the family of Parliament attack convict Muhammad Afzal Guru, hanged in Tihar jail earlier this year, and reiterated “India may delay freedom to the people of Kashmir but can’t deny it.” He was even sure of the delay being only “fleeting” and pledged this in front of Guru’s teenage son Ghalib.
While Geelani is out and seizing his ostensible freedom to convince more and more people on “futility of elections” mantra, a new political controversy surrounding his ‘release’ has set off in Jammu and Kashmir, bringing various mainstream political parties and leaders nose to nose. Several opposition politicians have openly accused the ruling National Conference-Congress coalition of “manipulating” Geelani’s release to keep voters away from polling booths. “He has been released only to ensure he reaches out the people with his election boycott call as they know it for sure that he will find many takers,” alleged Abdur Rashid Kabuli, former MP who is part of a recently launched ‘Third Front’ in Jammu and Kashmir comprising communist parties and some regional groups to fight the forthcoming State Assembly and Lok Sabha elections “collectively and coherently.”
Kabuli is concerned that a low turnout will only facilitate “vote chori” and “it is anybody’s guess who will do it or benefit from it.” He said, “It has happened in the past and it may happen again.” Some other political parties also have questioned timing of ending Geelani’s home confinement and said it could be a ploy. There has been no reaction to the criticism by the government nor has it, so far, given explanation as to why it suddenly decided to release the separatist leader and allow him to move from place to place with his election boycott diktat.
Some officials, however, privately say that keeping Geelani under house arrest for so long was only inviting severe criticism from human rights groups within the country and abroad and recently several newspapers having international sway also wrote about it. Also, the J&K High Court had recently reserved verdict on a contempt plea filed by Geelani seeking action against the authorities for non-compliance of court directions on his house arrest. The government’s counsel had informed the Court that the Srinagar District Magistrate had passed a fresh order on April 20 against Geelani under Section 144 and pleaded that police deployed outside his residence he “is meant for his protection.”
Nevertheless, what has mystified local watchers is; some ruling coalition politicians including senior NC leader and minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Ali Muhammad Sagar, who would until recently denounce Geelani and every action that he would take, publicly acknowledged his leadership “qualities” and even called him a “mass leader”. While Kabuli has urged Geelani to reconsider his poll boycott call, Moulvi Abbas Ansari, a senior separatist leader from the so-called moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference, has hoped his “freedom” would not be transitory and that he would not leave any room for maneuvering by anybody. All said, Geelani is pulling huge crowds wherever he goes but will the people oblige him also when the elections to the State Assembly and Parliament (sometime next year) are held or the separatists’ poll boycott call will once again fall short or evoke encouraging response only in few cities and towns as did happen on several occasions in the past is to be seen than speculated.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said on Monday Geelani's release was not a political but administrative decision. "Geelani was released after administration took pros and cons into account and finally decided to release him.” He added that the past record shows wherever Geelani addresses people, violence breaks out there. “Despite the negative past record, the administration let him go,” he said. He also said, "People are the ultimate source of authority and it is the people who can judge the best.”
He, however, hastened to add, "Geelani remains in lime light during disturbance and everyone that time feels and thinks the he is the leader of people. As peace prevails, people forget him." Before Abdullah same is the case with mainstream leaders. "People forget them during disruption of peace but revolve around them in the times of peace.”