Syed Ali Shah Geelani is going in for an image makeover, instead of spouting venom in mass rallies within Srinagar, he is attempting to reach out to a larger, national and international, audience with a new avatar as a statesman. He has released a pamphlet on Facebook called “Qaid-e-Inqilab: Syed Ali Geelani”, in which he has related his version of the Kashmir cause to the tourists and pilgrims visiting the Kashmir Valley. Hard copies of the pamphlet are freely available in the Valley and also in the Hurriyat office in Hyderpura, Srinagar. The pamphlet contains his oft repeated litany of woes – Kashmir is not a part of India; Kashmir is an international dispute; government and security forces are heaping atrocities on innocent Kashmiri people etc.
This Facebook initiative is but one part of a well conceived and multifaceted plan for the image makeover. In mid-April this year, in a surprise move and for the first time in twenty one years, he made some reconciliatory sounds for the displaced Kashmiri Pundit community by visiting a transit camp in South Kashmir. “Pandits are stake holders in Kashmir and they should go to their homes. Safe zones or transit camps are a part of divide and rule policy of the government. I, on behalf of majority community assure you full protection,” Geelani said. The reaction from the Pundit community was one of incredulity; where were you all these years Geelani sahib, they asked?
His next move was to declare that the Hurriyat faction will not go for prolonged strikes this year. However, old habits die hard, and he could not resist putting a rider that the onus of a trouble-free year was on the government. “Hurriyat will never call for strikes unnecessarily. The government is creating an impression of unrest in summer to wreck the Valley’s tourist season and to hit our economy,” Geelani said. “If innocent people are killed, harassment and arbitrary detentions continue, there would be a natural reaction,” he added for good measure.
This is a classic case of double speak, he has painted himself and the Hurriyat as the modicum of reasonableness, shifted all responsibility from his own person and put it on the shoulder of the government. Now a situation can be easily created wherein the government/ security forces would be accused of having perpetrated some imaginary or engineered atrocity which will be reason enough for Geelani and his cohorts to ride a moral horse and create disruption and dissension.
Yet another platform that Geelani is exploiting to the hilt is that of pseudo human rights activists and marginalised segments of high society, who are always willing to support a lost cause in order to gain publicity and maybe some other benefits. He has collected a small group of such people who organise seminars, book releases etc, and give inflammatory, one-sided and unwarranted comments on the Kashmir issue. These comments are picked up by a gleeful media always hungry for sensationalism, and Geelani gets his few moments under the sun.
What could be the reason for this very significant change in strategy? Probably Geelani has realised that not much could be achieved by creating mayhem through strikes, stone pelting and disruption in the last few years. The government remained unmoved and his brand of politics earned the ire of the common people. Geelani is absolutely conscious of the adverse effect of this scenario on his already dwindling support base. Facebook users have been discussing the “faults” and ‘failures” of the pro-freedom leadership which, according to them, is not capable of leading them. Those who expected some positive yields of the bloody mayhem of 2010 have openly expressed frustration and disappointment. Syed Ali Geelani assumes centre stage in this criticism. “He is egoistic”, “he lacks wisdom and leadership qualities” is the opinion of many on the social site. This could possibly be the reason behind his decision to put the aforementioned pamphlet on Facebook.
Yet another reason could be the realisation that the Omar Abdullah is now completely ready to deal with disruption both physically and politically. ‘We will not allow the repeat of events that unfolded over past three summers on one pretext or the other. We will defeat people who have started preparations for creating unrest in (coming) summer”, he said while addressing a passing out parade of JK Police at Baramulla on January. 13. Further, he has the complete support of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. “A set of new guidelines has been framed for the security forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir to handle civilian protests by using non-lethal weapons”., said Home Minister P Chidambaram, on April, 21. The JK Police and the Paramilitary forces have been geared up to tackle mass congregations and stone pelting with non lethal means such as pepper balls, chili grenades, 20-feet high movable iron walls, electronic guns and water cannons, etc. This apart, the JK Police has clear instructions to be very firm in dealing with law and order situations.
Coming back to Geelani, what does he intend to gain from this image makeover exercise? Does he seriously think that the people of India and the world community will rise as one to support his cause? No sir, they are not stupid, they are smart enough to understand what is good for Kashmir and its people and what is not. The international community has, on many occasions, made apparent its lack of conviction on Geelani’s view of the future of Kashmir. Nobody, repeat nobody of substance supports Geelani’s cause outside his small following in Kashmir and the few exasperating mavericks who have, without invitation, adopted the cause of Kashmir. His new found avatar is the result of political compulsions as he stares in the eye of political marginalisation