June 20, 2021
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The Face Of 'Azadi'

An analysis of Syed Ali Shah Geelani's Kashmir: Nava-e Hurriyat (“Kashmir: Voice of Freedom”) that provides insights into the man who has always supported the state’s accession to Pakistan and now finds himself at the centrestage of Kashmiri

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The Face Of 'Azadi'
The Face Of 'Azadi'


Not many Kashmiri Muslims might share his particular hardliner version of Islam or his passionate advocacy of Kashmir's accession to Pakistan, but, still, 82-year old Syed Ali Shah Geelani commands widespread respect among his people for his firm stance on azadi or freedom of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian rule, a stance that he has never wavered from. Geelani's popularity among vast numbers of Kashmiri Muslims rests principally in the fact that he is seen as one Kashmiri leader who has never compromised with India, and who has had to face considerable personal privation, including long bouts of imprisonment, for denouncing what he, like many Kashmiris, regard as India's illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir and its violation on a massive scale of human rights in the region. With Kashmir up in flames again, Geelani's word is now almost law to the intrepid Kashmiri youth out in the streets defying the might of the Indian state with stones. The overwhelming response to his calls for strikes and demonstrations that have rocked the Kashmir Valley for several weeks now in protest against the killing of youths by Indian armed forces clearly indicates that Geelani is back at the centre-stage of Kashmir politics. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that he is regarded by many Kashmiri Muslims as the unparalleled icon of their resistance to Indian rule.

Geelani is one of the few Kashmiri leaders to have written extensively on the Kashmir conflict, authoring over a dozen books (all in Urdu) on different dimensions of the issue.[1] A collection of press statements, letters to Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers and other leaders (many written during long bouts in various Indian prisons), interviews given to Kashmiri, and, especially, Pakistani journalists, and public addresses, Geelani's Kashmir: Nava-e Hurriyat ('Kashmir: Voice of Freedom') deals with various aspects of the Kashmir issue as he views them. [2]

Based on an analysis of Nava-e Hurriyat, this article lays out Geelani's understanding of the genesis of the Kashmir conflict, his critique of Indian rule, his advocacy for Kashmir's accession to Pakistan, his opposition to independence for Jammu and Kashmir or the 'third option' his understanding of the relationship between Islam, politics and the state, and his views on jihad, nationalism and inter-community relations within what he deems as the normative Islamic paradigm—all issues very central to the ongoing conflict in and over Jammu and Kashmir. The article also discusses a central paradox: If, as numerous surveys indicate, only a minority, and a diminishing one at that, of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir support the state's accession to Pakistan, why is it that Geelani, who has consistently advocated the state's merger with Pakistan, continues to be regarded as the icon of the Kashmiri Muslim resistance movement? Related to this is another paradox: If many, if not most, Kashmiri Muslims, do not agree with, or even vehemently oppose, the Islamist version of Islam, as represented by Geelani and the Jamaat-e Islami, what accounts for Geelani's charismatic appeal among many non-Jamaat Kashmiri Muslims? 

Geelani on the Genesis of the Kashmir Conflict 

Throughout the book Geelani reminds us that the roots of the Kashmir conflict lie in the Partition of India, when the then Indian princely states, which numbered almost 600, were given the choice of deciding between joining India or Pakistan. In making this decision, the rulers of these states, of which Jammu and Kashmir was one of the largest, were to be guided principally by the wishes of the majority of their subjects, which, in turn, were seen to be determined by their religion. Thus, if the majority of the population of a princely state were Muslim, the state was seen to be rightfully part of Pakistan, while states with a Hindu-majority were to join India. In addition, the decision of these states was also to be determined by other factors, such as geographical contiguity with either India or Pakistan, as the case might be, the direction of the flow of rivers that ran through them, and the presence of routes connecting them with either India or Pakistan.
On all these counts, Geelani argues, Jammu and Kashmir ought to have acceded to Pakistan. It had an overwhelming Muslim-majority that enjoyed not just religious, but close historical, economic and cultural ties with the inhabitants of Pakistan. The only land route connecting the state with the outside world throughout the year led to Pakistan. The rivers that passed through the state all flowed into Pakistan. All the factors that needed to be taken into account in determining the princely states. future political status—accession to India or Pakistan—therefore, logically demanded, Geelani stresses, that Jammu and Kashmir join Pakistan. [3] Hence, he writes, India's repeated claims that the state is an 'unbreakable part. (atoot ang) of India are without any merit whatsoever. [4]

Further building his argument that Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir should have formed part of Pakistan, rather than what he calls 'Hindu' India, Geelani claims that Muslims are a community/nation (qaum) wholly separate from the Hindus. He equates India with Hindus, overlooking the fact that India's Muslim population outnumbers that of Pakistan. He projects Muslims (as he does Hindus) as a monolithic, homogenous community, defined by a singular interpretation of religion, and bereft of cultural, ethnic, and other divisions. He depicts Muslims as radically different from Hindus, and as allegedly having nothing at all in common with them. 'It is absolutely true', he wrote in a letter written in 1994 to the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, 'that the Muslims are a complete separate nation on the basis of their religion, culture, civilisation, customs and practices, and thought. Their nationalism and the foundation of their unity cannot be based on their homeland, race, language, colour or economic system. Rather, the basis of their unity is Islam and Islam alone, and their belief that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's prophet.' Hence, he insisted, Hindus and Muslims were 'two different nations' [5], implying, possibly, that they were simply incapable of living together amicably. That is why, he argued, the Muslim League had demanded, and had won, a separate Muslim Pakistan based on this 'two nation theory'. This is also why, he suggested, Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir must be a part of Pakistan, rather than India.

With Muslims and Hindus being seen as by definition opposed to each other on virtually every count, Geelani argues that the logic of the 'two nation theory', which he claims even Hindu leaders had finally accepted by 1947, demands that Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir should become part of Pakistan. On the other hand, he suggests, if the state were to be part of India, it would be tantamount to a virtual apostasy for the Kashmiri Muslims, who would, so he claims, have to give up their nationality, based on Islam, for one based on Indian-ness, which he implicitly equates with Hinduism. Given the underlying Hindu framework on which Indian nationalism is based, Geelani seems to argue, this would result in the Kashmiri Muslims losing their sense of separate identity based on Islam. Accession to India would result, he claims, in the Kashmiri Muslims having to live perpetually under 'Hindu slavery'.[6]

In order to further reinforce his argument for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan, Geelani indicates what he regards as the inconsistencies, indeed contradictions, in India's stance on Kashmir by comparing its policy with regard to two other erstwhile princely states in 1947 which, like Jammu and Kashmir, were ruled by princes whose religion was different from that of the majority of their subjects: Hyderabad and Junagadh. Both these states had a Hindu-majority but were under Muslim rulers. Both the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Nawab of Junagadh chose to join Pakistan, but India protested, arguing that this would be a violation of the wishes of the majority of their subjects, who were Hindus, and that, therefore, both the states were logically part of India. With regard to these two states, Geelani points out, India's claims rested in the argument that the factor of paramount significance in their deciding between India and Pakistan was the religion of the majority of their subjects. That being the case, Geelani contends, India's claims on Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir are illegitimate and clearly contradict the principle it adopted in order to annex Hyderabad and Junagadh. [7]

Challenging the Claim of Kashmir’s Accession to India 

Despite what Geelani argues was the compelling case for Jammu and Kashmir joining Pakistan, events dictated otherwise. Geelani's description of critical events in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the Partition provide an interesting and compelling counterpoise to the official Indian narrative, highlighting various aspects that are ignored in the latter in order to build the case for justifying Indian control over Jammu and Kashmir. By excavating numerous developments that are conspicuously absent in the official Indian narrative—the slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslims in Jammu by Hindu mobs, anti-Muslim Hindu chauvinist groups and the Hindu Maharaja's forces, the perceived Hindu and anti-Muslim nature of the Indian state, the pathetic conditions of India's Muslims, and India's refusal to act on its promises to the international community to allow the Kashmiris to determine their own political future—Geelani's counter-narrative brings out vividly the underlying roots of the pervasive and continuous opposition to Indian rule among many Kashmiri Muslims.

Geelani argues that the 'Hindu' rulers of the newly-independent Dominion of India plotted to prevent what he regards as the natural and logical accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan. To begin with, he writes, they prevailed upon the departing British to have the district of Gurdaspur, in present-day Indian Punjab, to be given to India although it then had a Muslim-majority and, therefore, ought to have become part of Pakistan. The reason for this departure from the logic that informed the partition of the Punjab was, he argues, to provide India land access to Jammu and Kashmir, the road to Jammu leading through Gurdaspur. [8] Then, in July 1947, a month before the Partition, he goes on, the Hindu Maharaja of Jammu, in league with Hindu chauvinist forces, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha, ordered the disarming of all Muslim soldiers and policemen in the state and confiscated all weapons owned by Muslims. The Maharaja, Geelani relates, 'left no stone unturned in order to suppress and destroy the Muslim-majority in Jammu and Kashmir'. [9] Shortly after, on the orders of the Maharaja, the state's army, working in tandem with these viscerally anti-Muslim Hindu groups, set about slaughtering Muslims in the Jammu province on a vast scale. In this orgy of violence, tens of thousands of Muslims lost their lives, and many more were forced to flee across the border to Pakistan. Geelani notes that even as this dance of naked violence was taking place in Jammu, calm prevailed in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley, where the small Hindu minority remained unaffected by the horrors of the Partition, being protected by their Muslim neighbours.

Following the disarming of the state's Muslim population, who, for over a century, had labored under heavy disabilities under Hindu Dogra rule, and the large-scale violence directed against them, Geelani writes, Muslim tribesmen from Pakistan's northern regions entered Kashmir in order, as he puts it, 'to save their Kashmiri Muslim brethren'. In contrast to Indian authorities and scholars, who term this as a 'tribal invasion' and as having been motivated by the lust for loot and plunder, Geelani describes this armed incursion as a well-meaning response of the tribesmen to the plight of 'their oppressed Kashmiri Muslim brothers'. [10] Indian accounts focus on widespread destruction wrought by the tribesmen, including rape, robbery and murder, but this is completely absent in Geelani's account. Presumably, this is too embarrassing for Geelani to admit, or else he considers the Indian account to be false and motivated. Indian accounts portray the tribesmen as having been mobilized, armed and facilitated by the Pakistani army. In contrast, Geelani sees them as spontaneously rushing to the rescue of the beleaguered Kashmiri Muslims. While Indian sources attribute the failure of the tribesmen to capture Srinagar, Kashmir's capital, to their being diverted by engaging in widespread loot and mayhem, Geelani claims that this was because 'they were not organised. and that, therefore, 'their actions were not effective'. [11]

In the wake of the tribal incursion/invasion, Geelani writes, the Maharaja fled Srinagar and headed to Jammu, appealing to India for help. India agreed to do so only if the Maharaja acceded to India. Thereupon, the Maharaja is said to have signed the Instrument of Accession, but whether this actually happened, so Geelani claims, is 'doubtful'. [12] Even if one supposes that the Instrument of Accession were at all genuine, he says, it was, in any case, 'conditional' 'temporary. and 'limited'. Even Indian leaders agreed, he relates, that this was a stop-gap measure and that once peace were restored in the state the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be given the right to determine their political future through a free and fair plebiscite. In other words, he contends, the Instrument of Accession did not mean that Jammu and Kashmir had become an integral and permanent part of India. Further, Geelani argues, the Maharaja's decision to join India did not represent the desire of most Kashmiri Muslims, who, if given the chance, would have opted for Pakistan instead. [13]

Reminding his readers of undeniable historical facts that the Indian establishment might no doubt now find embarrassing, Geelani notes that it was India—and not Pakistan, nor the people of Jammu and Kashmir—that took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations. [14]  In late 1948 and then again in early 1949, the UN Security Council passed two resolutions, which were accepted both by India and Pakistan, calling for the settlement of the Kashmir conflict through a free and fair plebiscite in which the people of the state would be allowed to decide for themselves to join either India or Pakistan. Geelani points out that Indian leaders repeatedly issued statements wherein they promised to hold such a plebiscite. He quotes several public statements of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in this regard, including one in which Nehru is said to have solemnly declared, 'with the whole world as witness' that India would uphold its promise to the people of Jammu and Kashmir of allowing a plebiscite to choose between India and Pakistan, and that India 'would certainly fulfil this promise even if the people voted against India'. If the majority of the people of the state voted against India, Nehru added, India would be saddened but would still accept the peoples. verdict. [15]

Despite this, Geelani notes, in 1954 India's rulers began singing a different tune, reneging on their promise to the international community to grant the people of Jammu and Kashmir the right to determine their political future through a free and fair plebiscite. In that year, he says, India maneuvered to seek to incorporate Jammu and Kashmir as a part of India and to bring it under what Geelani terms 'Indian imperialistic control'.[16] This, he says, it sought to do by instigating what he considers the unrepresentative Jammu and Kashmir state assembly (elected, he suggests, through widespread rigging of votes so as to form a pro-India government) to declare the state's permanent accession to India.[17] Since then, he says, India has used this action as its main argument to justify its control occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.

Contradicting the official Indian stance, Geelani argues that the declaration of permanent accession to India by the state assembly cannot be said to have any validity at all. The state assembly, he claims, was not representative of the people, and in any case it did not have the mandate of the people to make a declaration of this sort. In other words, he contends, this declaration cannot in any sense be a substitute for the plebiscite that the UN Security Council Resolutions call for and that Indian leaders, till 1954, repeatedly promised to hold in the disputed state. [18] Furthermore, Geelani points that according to the 1951 UN Security Council Resolution on Jammu and Kashmir, the state assembly did not possess the power or prerogative to alter the political status of the state, and so its step did not have any validity in international law. He quotes the then Indian representative to the UN, BN Rao as having affirmed before the Security Council in March 1951 that no opinion of the state assembly on the political status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir would impact on the issue of plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir that India had agreed to hold. [19]

It is for this right of self-determination through plebiscite that what Geelani repeatedly refers to as 'the people of Jammu and Kashmir. or, simply, 'the Kashmiri people' have been consistently demanding ever since 1947. This is something, he says, that the world community, as represented by the UN, and India itself have solemnly promised them. It is also a basic human right, he insists. By continuing to deny the Kashmiris this right, which, Geelani says, is their birth-right and a basic human right, India's claim of being the 'world's largest democracy. is very evidently a complete sham. [20] 

1. I have discussed some of these writings in my essay, 'For Islam and Kashmir: The Prison Diaries of Sayyed 'Ali Gilani of the Jama'at-i-Islami of Jammu and Kashmir', Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, vol.18, no.2, 1998, pp.2413-45. 

2. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir: Nava-e Hurriyat, Mizan Publications, Srinagar, 1995. The book, written in Urdu, was originally published in Pakistan by the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies, an affiliate of the Jamaat-e Islami of Pakistan.

3. Ibid., p.61. 
4. Ibid., p.15.
5. Ibid., p.14.
6. Ibid., p.13.
7. Ibid., p.15. 
8. Ibid., p.17. 
9. Ibid., p.16.
10. Ibid., p.132. 
11. Ibid., p.132. 
12. Ibid., p.61. 
13. Ibid., p.15. 
14. Ibid., p.51.
15. Ibid., p.66. 
16. Ibid., p.61. 
17. Ibid., p.63. 
18. Ibid., p.108.
19. Ibid., p.97
20. Ibid., p.111.

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