As cops moved their tents in the jeep that perpetually stayed parked outside Geelani’s Hyderpora residence for seven months, opposition PDP started accusing ruling NC of initiating the process of poll boycott. The allegation pushes the ailing separatist octogenarian to a status of a kingmaker in Kashmir polls, a position that Modi might have for Jammu, reports Shah Abbas.
When the octogenarian separatist leader, Syed Ali Geelani was released after 235 day long house captivity on October 29, 2013 a facebook post reacted on the news as “And finally the caged Lion is free.”
After his release, Geelani shattered the political waters of Kashmir as he announced that he will visit Sopore, his home town and said that he will start his political activities from there.
Smelling the start of a forceful election boycott campaign by Geelani, both the local main unionist parties, ruling National Conference (NC) and the principal opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), reacted in such a way clearly indicating that they were not happy over the release of Geelani. NC’s two leaders reacted quite contrarily about the development.
Stating that Geelani has ‘strong’ foothold in the Valley and people here follow his calls, NC senior leader Ali Mohammad Sagar said “He (Geelani) is a leader of people and we have to accept it even if the truth is sour. We know he has a following and we should accept this reality.”
Another NC leader and uncle of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah could not hide his “fear” and reacted in his peculiar style. “Geelani has been released to weaken National Confrence. New Delhi is harbouring Geelani against National Conference and now he (Geelani) will visit NC bastions to push for election boycott and would urge upon Jamaat-e-Islami supporters to help PDP during elections,” he said.
Kamal added “Not only Pakistan but New Delhi is also providing monetary assistance to Geelani and other like-minded separatist leaders to uproot National Conference from the political map of the State”.
Kamal’s statement has two dimensions. One, he is indicating that Geelani was released by New Delhi and not by the state government “to weaken NC” and “Geelani will now urge upon Jamaat cadre to vote and support PDP”.
The first is a clear embarrassment for the Chief Minister, who already faces the allegation that in 2010, even curfew in Kashmir was imposed and relaxed directly by New Delhi.
Reacting on the both NC and PDP statements regarding Geelani’s release, Chairman Awami Itihad party, Engineer Rashid said “I believe that Geelani’s free movement would play a pivotal role in the resolution of Kashmir issue. Geelani stands for the resolution of Kashmir issue and represents the aspirations of common people. Those who deny his influence and power are living in a fool’s paradise.”
“Ultimately, time would tell what Kashmiri people want and whom they support. You can’t claim to be the representatives of people by caging an old leader like Geelani. Let him move and address people freely as he has every right to do so,” Rashid said.
Interestingly, PDP also smells rat in the release of Geelani, and the party stated that he (Geelani) was released by NC to serve its own political interest.
Naeem Akhtar, MLC and the chief spokesman of PDP said, “Apprehensions are there and many people believe that perhaps Geelani was released only because NC is benefited by his poll boycott campaign.”
Just on the other day when the police deployment from Geelani’s residence was lifted, this blame game took centre stage. Two NC leaders reacted quite differently, one called him as “Leader of the people” and the other a “beneficiary of New Delhi and Islamabad”. The PDP felt restoration of political space to the ailing leader was aimed at “ensuring a poll boycott that usually helps NC”.
Pertinently, “leader of the people” Geelani, was restricted to his house from March this year by none other than the National Conference government and a written order to this effect was served to him from the district magistrate, Srinagar early in the year. And the same PDP which is now smelling rat in the release of Geelani, not less than twice very strongly demanded the ending of his house arrest during last few months.
And then came November 1, when Geelani had to ‘start his political activities.’ He managed the largest people’s rally of last three years and hence succeeded in breaking the ice in favour of separatists who are facing police crackdowns since 2010.
Geelani lashed on NC, PDP and New Delhi in a similar tune. Geelani, alleged NC founder late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah of ‘selling the state’ to India for power. “Late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah is responsible for all the sufferings Kashmiris are facing by the hands of New Delhi, it was he who only against the power sold out the land and every political right to India,” he said.
Geelani alleged PDP chief, Mufti Mohammad Syed of being an Indian by conviction. He said, “Mufti Sahab is asking for 40 seats to settle the Kashmir issue, ask him what sort of resolution that will be, he must remember that Kashmiris are struggling for a resolution outside the Indian constitution which Mufti’ 40 seats can’t provide.” Geelani strongly impressed upon people to “reject” the unionist politicians naming NC and PDP.
While commenting on his release from longest spell of house arrest, Geelani said that it is not any concession given to him but he was being illegally detained at home by authorities. “If anyone says that election boycott helps any particular party, let them say but elections are only detrimental to our cause,” he said while addressing people at Sopore.
When appealed for a total poll boycott and rejection of the parties like NC and PDP by Geelani, people responded by raising slogans for at least five minutes. They chanted, “Boycott, boycott-election boycott” and “Go India-go back”. These were the two slogans mostly heard from a strong rally based on thousands from Sopore to Doabgah.
As the next Parliament and Assembly elections are nearing, NC and PDP are busy to oblige Congress to reach the crown. But it depends on the number of seats each of the party seeks and many political scientists say that Geelani has his role in the issue. In other words, it is also Geelani among others who have to decide about the next Chief Minister of the state because only time will tell that how long his poll boycott campaign will go and how much impact it will create.
PDP thinks that a low poll has traditionally helped NC to win. The party cites the instance of Srinagar where, Mufti Sayeed recently asserted, “tactical rigging” took place in 2008 as a result of which NC swept the city.
According to sources, Srinagar has half a million registered voters, but only 122998 exercised their right to franchise in 2008 and 48904 voted for NC.
On one hand according to PDP spokesman, NC is fighting its ‘unpopularity’ by unleashing a separatist poll boycott to ensure low polling, and on the other NC leaders have started beating the drum of ‘autonomy’ and ‘special status’ of the state.
According to political pundits PDP is yet to evolve its cadres to compete the NC, it is looking at an anti-NC vote. It was actually this ‘hate vote’ that fetched it 17 assembly berths in 2002 and 21 in 2008.
If Geelani’s pro-boycott campaign has an impact, “NC feels a win” according to PDP spokesman. Neither NC nor PDP has anything attractive in their kitty except the rhetoric ‘autonomy’ and ‘self rule’.
On the other hand, the case of the state congress is different in Kashmir. It can enjoy power with either of the local parties but in Jammu it has a newly emerging threat in the shape of Modi. If the new ‘threat’ works in Jammu, the state Congress will surely have problems in sharing the government either with NC or PDP.
After the emergence of Modi, state BJP thinks that Modi’s proposed Jammu visit in December, the equation at ground zero will change fundamentally. That is why BJP is working more for Modi’s reception than the party itself.
A Srinagar based Journalist, Manohar Lalgami is of the opinion that in this political situation which is based on uncertainty, Congress may be thinking to create a pre-poll alliance with either of the parties, NC or PDP because it has to remain in power and the two local unionist parties too need the alliance of Congress to keep one another out of the power.
And politically, state congress too has nothing in its basket to attract the voters in Jammu and valley. The party already faces crises within and there are a number of factions active working under different leaders like former Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad and its state chief, Saif-din Soz.
Party’s only comfort is the feeling that it is J&K’s real ‘kingmaker’. Since 2002 it is in power as it has the choice of changing partners – six years with Mufti and another six with Omar. This time, it claims to emerge as largest of the three parties. It draws its solace from the larger reality that Kashmir based PDP and NC can never ally with each other and neither of them can ever be seen allying with BJP. The limitation of choices for the two Kashmir based parties has given it a status that it rules the state at any situation.
Moreover, despite the prevailing political scenario in the two regions of the Jammu and Kashmir state NC and Congress, the present coalition partners appear to be fast drifting apart even knowing that both face tremendous problems in Valley and Jammu much before 2014 elections.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah recently said that some special arrangement similar to the one made by Britain in respect of Ireland and Scotland should be worked out for the state of Jammu and Kashmir to settle the issue.
This statement obviously did not go down well with a party like the Congress which has its roots in New Delhi being a National Party. Senior NC leaders, including Abdullah’s uncle Mustafa Kamal, have been engaged in a political criticism against the Congress, holding it responsible for “betraying” the party’s founder, late Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, “and thereby causing immense damage to the people of Kashmir”.
In yet another controversial issue raised by Kamal and his cousin Sheikh Nazir, the once all-powerful NC general secretary, the two said the late Sheikh had never been a party to the state’s accession to India in 1947. “The accession was made by the Dogra Maharaja, Hari Singh, when Sheikh was in the Maharaja’s jail. How could he be held a party to J&K’s accession to India in 1947?” they said.
The statement evoked a strong reaction from the Congress and even the separatist leaders. State Congress president Saif-Din Soz said the statement was not based on historical facts.
Syed Ali Geelani also said that Sheikh had even written in his autobiography, “Aatish-e-Chinar”, that he had played a vital role in getting India’s military help to stop the tribal invasion.
“The NC has always been playing on the pro-Valley card whenever elections are around. This might have helped them in the past, but the people now understand this party can align with anybody as long as it is assured of being in power. Didn’t it do that by aligning with the BJP (at the centre)?” asked Naeem Akhtar, PDP spokesman.
With the 2014 elections coming closer, the drift between the NC and the Congress would make things really difficult for both of them. In fact every unionist political party is running away with each other and every one of it is trying to come closer to New Delhi, directly. Except Tarigami, Hakim Yasin and others who established a joint platform “J&K People’s United Front” last week. But as Dr. Farooq Abdullah, NC president said, “such type of fronts will not make any impact”. Tarigami and Hakim, can at the most retain their two berths and there is no third face in the “Front” who can even disturb the overall counting.