The self 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).
Their 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.
Along 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)
Interestingly, 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.
About 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)
The willingness 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.
It had 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
However, 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.
It confuses 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.
Even when,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
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.
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 and Pakistan, 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.
Many 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 help. 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.
If we 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.
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.