With Geelani in back seat, will the Professor now drive Hurriyat?
Geelani and Bhat are the two senior-most leaders in the Hurriyat Conference. They began their journey in APHC together but chose to part ways after political differences crept in.
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Syed Ali Shah Geelani — the hardcore influential Hurriyat leader in Kashmir’s political landscape — has taken a back seat. It is now time for the moderate leader — Prof Abdul Gani Bhat — to take the driver’s seat. He needs to move on with his politics that he has been bringing on the divided table of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) for over a decade.
In 2003-04, Geelani parted ways with other APHC heavyweights like Bhat, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abbas Ansari, Shabir Shah, Nayeem Khan and many others. Now, 16 years later, what has surprised many is Geelani parting ways with the Hurriyat amalgam itself — an organisation that he had floated.
Geelani and Bhat are the two senior-most leaders in APHC. They began their journey in Hurriyat together and both hail from the apple town in north Kashmir — Sopore.
Geelani, though being a senior both in age and years in politics, worked under Prof Bhat in Hurriyat for a long time. Bhat taught Persian in Baramulla college before joining Hurriyat. However, political differences crept in and they chose different paths.
Geelani (R) and Bhat (L) are the two senior-most leaders in the Hurriyat Conference. (Photo: India Today Archives)
Geelani refused to move an inch on UN resolutions and the Right to Self-determination. On the other hand, Prof Bhat was open to other viable solutions and kept bringing new ideas on the table for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
Muslim Conference President Bhat is a staunch believer of dialogue and has unequivocally called for compromises from all stakeholders to reach a practical solution. He was among the moderate faces in Hurriyat who met Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
Professor Bhat was a staunch supporter of the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula, while Geelani strongly opposed it. Geelani called out those trying to solve Kashmir through this four-point formula, accusing them of “selling the blood and sacrifices of martyrs”. His supporters protested the formula, saying, “Four-Point formula dhokha hai.”
In 2016, Geelani refused to even meet the all-party delegation of Indian parliamentarians, terming it a “futile exercise”. However, Bhat, who lives 10 km from Geelani’s Hyderpora residence, opened his doors for constructive talks. “The doors of my office are open to everyone. If people come to me for talks, I will talk. I will also put forth my point that without involving Pakistan, no breakthrough on Kashmir is possible,” Bhat had said back then.
Bhat believes in creating new opportunities for dialogue. “What we need now is sanity. We should contribute towards an environment of sanity. You may not be able to achieve a breakthrough, but talks have to happen and you have to talk sense,” he said.
In a 2016 interview, Bhat said that his views were irrelevant given the atmosphere of politics around. “Who am I? I am an irrelevant man,” he had said.
Now the politics in Kashmir — both, Hurriyat and mainstream — are at a crossroads after the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A last year. Lately, Chinese incursions in Ladakh are at an all-time high. All these events remind me of what Prof Bhat told me in an interview in 2016.
He said, “Kashmir is a big problem. It is not what it was in 1947. We have come a long way. We all need to understand the geopolitics around us. Both the countries, India and Pakistan, can’t ignore the Chinese corridor through Pakistan and at the same time, the American involvement in Afghanistan. We cannot ignore what China is doing in Pakistan and the US is doing in Afghanistan.” The interview was published in The Legitimate, a local news portal.
During the 2016 uprising that broke out after Burhan Wani’s killing, Bhat was the only Hurriyat leader who distanced himself from the unrest. He would always distance himself from the Hartal Calendar politics too, repeatedly saying that this would lead nowhere. He vouched for “imaginative solutions”.
I don’t know how Bhat will now find the scope for “imaginative solutions”, with the power dynamics in New Delhi completely changed and Kashmir’s regional autonomy gone.
However, he firmly believes that dialogue is the only solution. “If you lose on the battlefield, you don’t necessarily lose the war. But if you lose across the table, you lose forever. If you know the art — the art of talking, the art of putting your point of view across to your opponent, you will never lose the war across the table.”
It will be interesting to see what unfolds vis-à-vis Kashmir and Hurriyat now. Will Geelani continue to call the shots in Hurriyat? Or will he finally give way for moderate faces like Bhat and Mirwaiz to do the talking with their “imaginative solutions”?
While Geelani’s decision to quit Hurriyat has surprised almost everyone in Kashmir, many who know him closely say that this was expected. Political observers are of the opinion that it was the two-edged relationship of many Hurriyat leaders, in addition to his health issues, that finally made Geelani call it a day. Whether one likes or dislikes Geelani for being stubborn and rigid in his ideology and principles, no one can accuse him of being politically or morally corrupt.
But for the majority of Kashmiris, Hurriyat is synonymous with Geelani. Without Geelani, Hurriyat means nothing to them.