You could think of it as a final ellipsis in one man’s life, or as the turning point of a whole phase of history in Kashmir—with India, and then Pakistan, applying the vector force. For the past 30 years, 91-year-old Syed Ali Geelani has remained the pivot of Kashmiri separatism. He symbolised Kashmir’s hardline politics against Indian rule—the door that slammed shut in the face of even the occasional peace overture. Unlike some of his former associates, more amenable to dialogue under tolerable conditions, Geelani has all along enunciated the maximalist position: that the only condition for dialogue with New Delhi is that the latter accept Kashmir as a disputed territory. His street cred bore out that role of the white-bearded pater familias of resistance politics.
During the surge of protests post the killing of Burhan Wani in 2016, Geelani refused to meet the parliamentary delegation that knocked on his door at his Hyderpora residence. He described the overture as meaningless, saying they have neither the mandate nor “the intention to resolve” Kashmir. In two statements issued in September 2016, the then Hurriyat chairman asked India to accept Kashmir as a disputed territory and start demilitarisation to pave the way for a referendum—only that could “settle this issue permanently, peacefully and democratically,” he had said. That unflinching stance, in line with the sentiment on the street, meant he was acknowledged on all sides as the real inflexible one. Even if formally he was only the life-time chairman of his Hurriyat faction, he was the face and voice of Kashmir’s veto.