Lone, Geelani And The Jamaat
11 July 2003
Kolkata: FOR months, Sajjad and Bilal Gani Lone avoided the media. The brothers refused to be dragged into any controversy surrounding the All-Party Hurriyat Conference and its former chairman, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The younger of the two brothers and People's Conference chairman, Sajjad Lone, had already suffered much for his bold statement after his father Abdul Gani Lone was killed. He had said Lone (Sr) was killed by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence, but was later forced to eat his words. Lone (Sr) was killed at Idgah in Srinagar on 21 May 2001. But Geelani refused to cut his tirade against the People's Conference, prompting Sajjad Lone to go public against him on Tuesday. He accused Geelani of connivance in his father's murder and charged him with conspiring to eliminate his party's top leadership and other crimes. Sajjad Lone issued a dossier against Geelani, alleging that he was freed from jail after an understanding with the Centre that he would split the Hurriyat. Another reason why Sajjad Lone broke his silence was Geelani's threat to form a parallel forum against Hurriyat. The Hurriyat infighting began a few months ago when the septuagenarian Geelani returned home from Ranchi's Birsa Munda Jail. Hurriyat and its constituent, People's Conference, have been mired in controversy ever since. Because Geelani - the hawk among the Hurriyat doves - has been demanding PC's expulsion for fielding proxy candidates in the October 2002 elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. Even Jamaat-e-Islami, Geelani's party, withdrew him from the separatist conglomerate but later reinstated him under pressure from the United Jehad Council - an umbrella organisation of all militant outfits operating in the state. The bitter row between Geelani and PC has now taken an ugly turn. And Geelani is in no mood to compromise his demand for PC's expulsion from Hurriyat. Known for his inflammatory rhetoric, the former Hurriyat chairman has stayed away from the umbrella organisation's meetings. Hurriyat's present chief Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat even tried to work out a rapprochement between Sajjad Lone and Geelani, but in vain. More fuel was added to the controversy fire on 4 July when Geelani reiterated his demand at a rally in Sopore, a Jamaat stronghold. It's in Sopore that he talked about an alternative political lobby - though his own party later refused to float or support any forum against Hurriyat. Though differences between the Hurriyat constituents are bound to widen - because of the recent developments - the possibility of a Hurriyat split, however, has apparently been averted with the Jamaat refusing to back any parallel group. Another reason for this is that Pakistan cannot risk a break-up of Hurriyat, which it supports. Even though Geelani is seen as Pakistan's most trusted man, President Pervez Musharraf has always maintained that Hurriyat is the 'real representative of the Kashmiri people' - thus the pressure on Geelani and his men to avoid an open confrontation with Hurriyat leaders. Geelani is under pressure, say J&K watchers, to stop his tirade against the Hurriyat leaders. He enjoys a good rapport with Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin, who's head of United Jehad Council too. Hizbul looks up to him for emotional and spiritual support. In fact, Geelani's influence on the militant groups was quite evident when the Jamaat issued a statement saying it hadn't withdrawn Geelani from Hurriyat on any grounds, leave alone 'ill-health' reasons. Other experts say Geelani's ouster might have helped Hurriyat and the majority of Hurriyat's moderate voices would have been heard more often. It could have forced the Centre to engage Hurriyat at some level. 'In fact, he is the only person creating hurdles in involving the Hurriyat in the peace process,' said a political analyst. Besides, Geelani's ouster would have been a demoralising experience for the militants and their sympathisers because his inflammatory rhetoric has been a great source of inspiration for militants and those believing in a separatist ideology. The radical leader has always been against striking a deal with the Centre and had even opposed a ceasefire when former Hizbul No. 2 Abdul Majid Dar, killed in April, had come up with the proposal in July 2000. The ceasefire lasted only a few months - till Pakistan arm-twisted Hizbul supremo Syed Salahuddin into demanding that New Delhi accept Islamabad as the third party at the talks table. Now with Sajjad Lone hitting back at Geelani and strict instructions from across the border to avoid a split in Hurriyat, the obvious question is what will the Jamaat do next.