appointed guardians of Bharat Mata (Mother India) did it again. On 26th
March 2012, a group of rowdies barged uninvited into the premises of the Centre
for the Study of Developing Societies to disrupt an interaction we had
organized with Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Hurriyat. Just as the 86 year old
Geelani came out of his car along with 4 colleagues, a bunch of hoodlums barged
into CSDS and began kicking, punching and hurling foul abuses amidst chanting
of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Hail Mother India).
prime target was 86 year old Geelani. Since I stood in front of him to protect
him from physical violence, I was repeatedly kicked in my belly and delivered
quite a few blows on my head. No true son of Mother India would ever attack a
proud daughter of Mother India in this manner. Along with
Bharat Mata ki Jai, they shouted the favoured slogan of hoodlum brigades that
try to wrap their goonda politics in the national flag: “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maro salon ko” (The traitors to this
country should be shot dead). The
hoodlums claimed they were from the ABVP and Bhagat Singh Sena.
bunch of hoodlums trying to attack Geelani as he entered CSDS with
Madhu Kishwar intervening to protect him and cameras of ANI dutifully
capturing the scene
with warning us that we deserved bullets, they showered the choices of filthy
ma-behn abuses on us. The gutter language and the goonda tactics used by this
group of disrupters provided a clear indication that these men were probably
hired goons -- the kind who gets routinely rented for disruptive activities by
politicians and other vested interests. (To view a
footage of the attack, click here)
they had come prepared with TV cameras to ensure that they got their five
minutes of fame on TV so that their rent value keeps escalating. We had not invited any media person because
this was meant to be a low profile, quiet interaction between Geelani and my
academic colleagues at CSDS.
half an hour before these hoodlums descended on us, two young journalists from
TV news service Asian News International (ANI) came to me and asked for
permission to cover the event. I told them politely that it was not meant to be
a media event but if they wanted to participate in the dialogue they were
welcome to do so. However, their real intent became evident from the fact that,
within minutes of the goonda attack, they had relayed the video recording to
several TV channels. As soon as the police restored order the ANI crew lost
interest in the proceedings. They did not consider it worth their while to sit
through the dialogue. They simply waited for it to be over so that they could
record a sound byte with Geelani.
The selective use of ANI footage by Headlines Today portraying the attackers, makes heroes out of hoodlums.(To view this footage, click here)
Asian News International (ANI) recording a quick sound byte with Geelani after the meeting
of this TV news service to act as the broadcasting wing of a group of rowdies is
perhaps explained by the fact that this news service is backed by the central
government, especially the Home Ministry. It is plausible that the Dirty Tricks
Department of the Home Ministry organized the attack and sent ANI journalists
to cover Geelani’s visit. However, I
must put on record that all the Intelligence officials of the CID sent to cover
the event were extremely helpful as was the local police.
not occurred to me to even inform the local police since our meeting was meant
for a selected group of invitees. But
right from 26th morning, we had a CID team hovering around CSDS. They
even brought a bomb squad to check the premises. With them came a contingent of
the local police which turned out to be a life saver. Even though I had made a
joke of their presence and persuaded the SHO to have only a token presence of
policemen in the premises, we would have in all likelihood ended up with broken
skulls if the policemen on duty had not promptly called for a larger team to
handle the rowdies baying for our blood.
Local police and CID officials discussing security arrangements with Madhu Kishwar
much before the unexpected attack, I had let the policemen as well as the plain
clothes CID officials know that they were welcome to attend the meeting instead
of snooping around stealthily. That
seems to have made them look upon our meeting with less mistrust.
me that an interaction with Kashmiri separatist leader Geelani should be
interpreted as an act of betrayal and treachery by self proclaimed defenders of
Mother India. If their love for Mother India was the least bit genuine, they would
learn how to express their differences, concerns and opinions in a civilized
manner. They would appreciate that all those who are seriously interested in
finding an enduring solution to the vexed Kashmir problem through democratic
means need to keep lines of communication open with all those who claim to be
disenchanted with Indian democracy.
CSDS Faculty and others during the meeting with Geelani
the participants in the interaction agreed with Geelani’s political position.
He faced tough questions. And yet, the man known as the most steadfast hard
liner did not respond with anger or vituperative. He kept his calm even when
confronted with very inconvenient questions.
at the very end, Amitabha Pandey stated very bluntly that he did not see any
point in carrying on a conversation with Geelani since the latter remained
stuck to his old and dead end position, Geelani did not respond with anger or
rudeness. It was left to me to point out that, just as we expected Geelani to
move over to our viewpoint, he too was coming to these interactions in the hope
of convincing us to accept his version and worldview. If we want to move towards meaningful
solutions, we have to have the patience to keep lines of communication open
despite differences. That is the only way we can marginalize those who believe
in using the gun to impose their will on others.
Geelani facing some tough questions during the meeting
As far as
Geelani is concerned, I prefer to judge him by his actions rather than his
words. On that front, I see a lot of common ground and a lot of change. Today,
Geelani Sahib is disowning violence as a legitimate means of settling political
disputes, even though he was at one time in the forefront of a violent upsurge
in Kashmir. Earlier, he presented only one choice: Kashmir’s secession from India and joining Pakistan. Today, he says he is
willing to accept a verdict in favour of India
or “azaadi” from both India
if the people of J&K vote in that direction. He rules out a division or
secession of J&K on the grounds of religion. At one time, he wanted a
Muslim dominated, Islamic rule in J&K. Now he insists religious, linguistic
and other minorities have an equal right in shaping the destiny of J&K.
Most important of all, he is one of the few Kashmiri leaders who is openly
coming out in defence of religious minorities. For example, when Christians
were attacked and certain religious leaders passed a fatwa that Christians
should be thrown out of the State, Geelani openly challenged that fatwa and asserted
that it was the duty of the majority to protect the minority. Similarly, when
politically engineered Hindu-Muslim clashes broke out in Rajouri district in March
2012, Geelani’s intervention was in favour of communal amity. Though many
perhaps rightly hold him guilty of having created hostile conditions for
Kashmiri Pandits in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, leading to their mass exodus
from the Valley, today he never tires of repeating that Kashmiri Pandits must
be enabled to return to their homes in the Valley. Among others, Sanjay Tikkoo of Kashmiri
Pandit Sangharash Samiti has told me that whenever the surviving Kashmiri
Pandits feel a threat in the Valley, they often come to Geelani for help. In
all such situations, Geelani honors his word and stands up for their safety.
within the government and outside think that this “change of heart” in Geelani
and other hardliners in Kashmir has come about because Pakistan is in a mess
and therefore not in a position to provide support to the separatists. To my
mind, this is a short sighted view. They overlook the fact that Kashmir could
become another Afghanistan
even without Pakistan’s
troubles should not make us complacent. The Government of India is acting under
the mistaken belief that it can manipulate the internal differences in the
Hurriyat by keeping certain leaders on its payroll just as Pakistan’s ISI
has done to foment trouble.
Ambassador VK Grover and Madhu Kishwar seeing Geelani off
sincerely believe that Kashmir is an “internal problem” of India, we
should not ignore the need to arrive at a democratic and fair settlement with
Kashmiri separatist leaders like Geelani who have the political clout within
the Valley to deliver a peaceful settlement. This task cannot be performed by
armed forces. They can only protect our borders. They cannot bring about a political settlement. Geelani is today 86 years old.
After him, we may not find leaders who have the clout to deliver a peaceful and
enduring settlement. Therefore, I for one, pray for his long life.
For me an
important verdict on the interaction with Geelani came from Devika Bordia, a
young colleague at CSDS: “I really admired the way
you moderated the discussion and ensured that channels of communication were
kept open, not only during the meeting, but also for future dialogue. I think
that these kinds of conversations are crucial for fostering vibrant political cultures.”
Postscript: We will soon be
posting the questions posed to Geelani sahib by participants in this
interaction in the hope that either Mr Geelani or his colleagues in the
Hurriyat will answer those questions which Geelani sahib did not answer fully.
Posted on April 5, 2012