Interview: Syed Ali Shah Geelani

Syed Ali Shah Geelani: ‘BJP wanted to have dialogue with me’

Print edition : September 24, 2021

Syed Ali Shah Geelani (1930-2021). Photo: Mukhtar Khan/AP

Interview with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir’s veteran pro-resistance leader.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, hardline Hurriyat leader who passed away in Srinagar on September 1 at the age of 91, believed that the Sangh Parivar’s rhetoric on Article 370 had less to do with safeguarding India’s integrity or securing the economic progress of Jammu and Kashmir than with its electoral politics and its attempts to create a Hindu rashtra.

In this unpublished interview with Anando Bhakto in 2014, soon after Narendra Modi came to power, Geelani cautioned that the Modi regime’s agenda was the increasing marginalisation, and possible expulsion of, Muslims. His words are relevant in the times of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). In a sharp contrast to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) public derision of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for its policy of dialogue and negotiation vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir, Geelani claims that the BJP had sent emissaries to him with an offer of dialogue shortly before the 2014 election. Excerpts:

The BJP under Narendra Modi has reiterated its pledge to scrap Article 370 and 35A.

The RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] and the BJP’s politics in Kashmir is guided by their electoral interests in India. Whenever elections are round the corner, as is the case this year [2014], they rake up Kashmir and stoke fear among the Indians by creating imaginary threat[s] from the Kashmiri Muslims and from the special provisions contained in Articles 370 and 35A.

The fact of the matter is a series of presidential orders over the past decades eroded the salient provisions of the Act. Article 370 has become hollow in the present context as most of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy guaranteed under it has been ended. To give an example, the Election Commission and the Supreme Court of India did not have jurisdiction in the State earlier, but now they do.

However, very few Indians have an informed opinion of Kashmir and its layered history and politics. The BJP taps this ignorance to give greater circulation to the false notion that India’s integrity is threatened by Article 370 and the only way to safeguard it is by taking away Jammu and Kashmir’s Constitutional guarantees.

The BJP and the Sangh Parivar maintain that Articles 370 and 35A are an impediment to economic development in Jammu and Kashmir.

This is a myth generated by right-wing groups in collusion with the national media. Article 370 is not a barrier to the setting up of industries in Jammu and Kashmir. The Land Grafts Bill ratified in 1977 allows non-state subjects to buy land for a period of 90 years for the purpose of setting up factories. Kashmir has the example of chains of hotels and other private entities that have been operating here.

There is also the notion that Jammu and Kashmir’s special status has played a role in alienating Kashmiris from the rest of India.

This is a narrative peddled by the BJP to mould public opinion and build their case against Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. The purpose of Article 370 was to find a political solution to the State of Jammu and Kashmir by determining whether people here would want a permanent merger with India. The treaty of accession signed between India and Maharaja Hari Singh on October 26, 1947, granted India authority in only three areas: defence, foreign affairs and communication. No less a person than India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, promised that Kashmir’s future would be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people through a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations.

What will be the people’s response if Article 370 is abrogated?

If there is any attempt to do away with Article 370, it will invite State-wide protests. Jammu and Kashmir is considered a disputed territory internationally. We will not derail from our right to self-determination. If any measures are taken to revoke Article 370, we will launch a disciplined campaign against it across the State.

There is a murmur that you met emissaries from the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 elections.

A few people on behalf of the BJP came to meet me on March 22 [2014]. They were confident that the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance would come to power, and they wanted to know whether I would be interested in a dialogue with the future government.

Is dialogue not preferable to violent forms of resistance?

I believe that war is not a solution, but any dialogue between us and New Delhi is conceivable only when our three-point demands are fulfilled. One, New Delhi will have to accept Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory; two, release all political detainees in Kashmir; and three, withdraw the occupying forces [the Indian Army].

Since 1947, there have been more than 150 dialogues between India, Pakistan and pro-freedom leaders in Kashmir. But what was the outcome of that? There is a need for analysis of dialogues held in the past rather than hold a fresh one.

How do you see India under the BJP led by Modi?

They [the BJP] are the proponents of Hindutva and they want to enforce their ideology coercively. The BJP’s ideological parent is the RSS, which is not kindly disposed towards the Muslims. There is an atmosphere of fear and apprehension among the Indian Muslims and that is not unfounded. The Sangh’s agenda is to marginalise the Muslims or, worse, expel them altogether.

The BJP won three Lok Sabha seats from Jammu and Kashmir in the 2014 general election.

The BJP has been playing an openly communal politics in Jammu. The party owes its success in Jammu to polarisation witnessed in the aftermath of the Kishtwar riots.

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