Syed Ali Shah Geelani is indisputably the most important leader of Kashmir's religious right wing. The head of the Jamaat-e- Islami, which runs a string of religious institutions, schools and charities in the Valley, Geelani was for many years a player in democratic politics. After 1989, however, he has committed himself to the fight for the Jamaat's vision of Kashmir's future in Pakistan. Geelani plays an important role in the Hurriyat Conference. In this interview to Praveen Swami, he discussed the allegations of corruption that have increasingly eroded his organisation's credibility. Excerpts:
Over the last two years, several newspapers have suggested that you have been amassing property in Srinagar and at Dooru and Bandipore. What is your response to these allegations?
This talk is completely baseless. If you have been to Dooru, you will have seen that my ancestral home there has been blown up by renegade militants in the presence of the Indian Army. The property has been owned by my family for generations and there is no question of my having acquired it through embezzled funds. My brother's homes there were burned down by renegades some months earlier. As for Bandipore, this is the first time I have heard I have property there.
Javed Shah, MLA, claims that your son Dr. Naim Geelani built a nursing home there with terrorism-related funds. Shah claims that he was treated at the nursing home in 1993 for a bullet injury sustained when he was "deputy supreme commander" of the Jihad Force.
I've already told you that the allegations are baseless. Look, since 1947, we have been saying that we reject the Indian Government's presence here. It is a colonial state, propped up by an Army of occupation. We do not have to give any answers to them.
Leaving aside politics, what do you have to say about the charge itself?
Naim's friends have repeatedly told him that what he earns from working for the Government as a medical doctor is peanuts, and that he should open a nursing home. He has repeatedly refused to do so, saying that it would violate his principles.
My younger son did indeed grow up in Bandipore. His mother died when he was just an infant, and he was brought up by a lady who was staying with us, introduced by someone in the Jamaat hierarchy. When the lady married and moved to Bandipore, he was, so to speak, adopted by that family, since I was busy in political struggle. They say that he is a forest official. That is flagrantly untrue. He applied for a central forest service job, and when he did not get through the examination, he applied for a state forestry (service) job. Despite his being best qualified for the job, his appointment has been held up. He works in the area on a Central Government grant, studying sub-alpine meadows. The home belongs to his adoptive family, not me. It is so easy to defame someone. But I am willing to pay that price.
The CBI also believes that you own the house that we are now speaking in, as well as the home at the Barzulla bund in Srinagar, where you used to live earlier.
All these properties belong to the Jamaat-e-Islami. I have no house at present, my sole property at Dooru having been blown up. I am homeless.
The Jamaat-e-Islami has dozens of properties, perhaps 30 in Srinagar. Why does a party need so many residential properties?
The Jamaat-e-Islami has been working here since 1946. A cadre- based party that has been active for so many years is bound to have property, for establishment purposes and offices. All these properties have been bought with properly donated funds and properly accounted for.
Would it be possible to see these accounts? At least for the purpose of public accountability?
No, there is no need for us to show it to anybody. We are not responsible to give accounts to the Government, or the Indian press. The people know the Jamaat-e-Islami is the most trustworthy party, working only for Islam and the good of Kashmir. They know we are completely honest.
Finally, there is substantial evidence to show money was siphoned off from relief funds for Chrar-e-Sharief. As a Hurriyat member, what do you have to say about this?
I understand that you have spoken to Mr. Lone about this. Whatever he told you must be the truth. I was never involved in this. I had nothing to do with Chrar-e-Sharief.