Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Reading Syed Ali Geelani

The third volume of Geelani’s autobiography is almost encyclopedic documenting of all major and many minor events of Kashmir struggle
Some books are more important than their authors. Some authors are of greater interest for the readers than their books. And it is the stature of the author’s personality and overall work that one needs to have an idea about to better read his book. This applies especially to the case of SAS Geelani.
Generally speaking, we have leaders but not writers and that has been partly our undoing. While writing, one has to make thoughts untangle and clear and that forces self criticism. Geelani, along with a couple of names, seeks to fill the gap. But does he succeed? How objective, nuanced and scholarly is his writing?
Indian according to passport, Pakistani according to conviction, Geelani is arguably the most influential Kashmiri leader to have emerged in the last few decades, at least in the people’s imagination. A vast majority of Kashmiri call him Father, Bab or Toath – Geelani’s larger than life persona and charisma have been instrumental in fashioning contours of the current struggle.  He has been both admired and reviled on more sentimental than rational grounds. He is already a legend, and there had to be one who would seem to fill the vacuum in leadership. The fact that we increasingly feel this vacuum there calls for distinguishing the symbol from the fact. He has been our folk political philosopher of resistance in absence of professional philosophers, although he hasn’t been quite convincing, especially of late, for many politically educated minds. And there is a thin line that is often crossed between folk and mob philosophy and that explains both the glory and disaster our history of resistance has been. In Kashmir it is, whether one likes it or not, Geelani’s Age. Geelani is a legend; he commands respect. He is the most gifted orator in resistance leadership. He has mastered rhetorical skills to mesmerize audience. He has both facts and arguments to marshal. The book under discussion shows he is not just an orator but an author of considerable prowess.
Geelani has been able to carve a permanent place in the history of resistance; he has proved flexible beyond the limits usually imagined in orchestering resistance. He has fought elections, he has defied them, and recently he has been strategically less vocal regarding them. He has largely abandoned Pakistan centrism though that remains so dear to him in personal capacity. He has a very smart “enemy” to handle and very vulnerable masses to educate and lead. I don’t think our leadership has done the needful in terms of educating the masses. Geelani has used his pen to educate though we needn’t condone his own version of the conflict narrative. But his importance lies in calling a spade a spade, drawing the lines so clearly, stating the position of the devoiced majority so forcefully, though one would find him more morally than politically correct in a fast changing globalized world where the meaning of sovereignty has been increasingly diluted and contested. He hasn’t been able to play his natural game; he has been compelled to skew his innings as per the contradictory realities emerging at ground level. Geelani’s seemingly contradictions are really the contradictions of the tangled and divided loyalties of different regions, different interests, though all share the collective guilt and victimhood of what can’t be called by any other word than occupation.
Although Geelani has impressed some on what appear to be moral and some symbolic and some others on the grounds of scholarly oratory, he has been increasingly alienated and isolated in the current scenario following fissured Hurriyat, disgruntled youth, thanks to more pressing material problems like unemployment and troubled Pakistan and highly contested legacy of what has been called Political Islam in the Muslim world.
Although Kashmiris are mostly in awe of Geelani, the symbol of resistance, they have own versions about his personality or suggestions to edit it in their own ways. Geelani has been a torch bearer in hard times when it was felt that people could be bought. Geelani’s literary universe is more colourful than we would ordinarily expect. His faith is as unshakeable as ever.
Does Geelani attempt to judge history or use it to move forward? I am afraid, he sounds too much of a moralist and that explains why he uses a key word betrayal while appraising major figures in establishment in Kashmir till now. But isn’t the more important question that asks why so many betrayals and thus historicize and better understand their genealogy. Given the aversion to political theory, to class analysis, to Focauldian or other genealogical approach to understanding State and power dynamics and given his rather too heavy a reliance on pre-partition two nation narrative that, though so vital to understanding the conflict, in itself may be shown to be an ideological construction premised more on ex-colonialist than our interests, one wonders how we take the key theses of Wular Kinarae.
The current volume continues the older narrative in its framing of events, in its grandiloquent and moralistic style, in its urgency to speak to the youth. The tale told is of dispossessed people, their wailing and their decision to wrench.
Some key theses that are substantiated in the current volume: utter urgency of the need for K resolution, religious dimension of K issue, sectarianism as a new weapon to weaken resistance movement, failure of other Hurriyat factions to deliver; discrediting of all those who speak for dialogue with India or discourse that invokes “within the limits Indian Constitution” clause; need to oppose Bihari inflow and separate colonies for Pandits, and extension of duration of Yatra.  Some ideas made more popular by civil society activists like some environmental issues and power project politics also have been tabled by the author for consideration. One misses more objective analysis of 2008 and 2010 and their “abortion.” Geelani invokes faith for both religious and political reasons.
Geelani’s third volume makes numerous observations regarding the events post 1995 till date and rehearses a number of arguments in the book. It is almost encyclopaedic in scope in documenting all major and many minor events. The arguments that are made include, among others, the argument that there is fundamentally skewed relationship between Centre and State – he calls it colonialist – that mainstream politicians have largely failed Kashmiris, that Indian democracy is a joke when it comes to Kashmir issue, that he himself emerges de facto as the tallest leader and has uncontested symbolic value and has succeeded in transmitting the fire of change to the new generation, thus changing Kashmir for good.
One misses more candid engagement with the emerging currency of pro-election politics. One misses critical engagement with Middle East crises. One misses some of the key arguments his critics have been marshalling against his policies (like strike calendars) and personality. Some events (like certain family affairs, receptions,) are given much larger space than they deserve, while some more important events get only a passing mention or very brief treatment.
Let us not forget that Geelani received no degree in political theory from Harvard or Cambridge; he had to make choices that were already circumscribed.  Product of his circumstances, human all-too-human, passionate, dreamy and living in a world where great murky games are being played by world powers, Geelani couldn’t fight his battle only. He had to contend with powers that had their interests. He was never free to be himself. One must praise the determination to see the world constructed according to the prophetic moral vision in a world that knows primarily cunning, intrigue, brute power and interests of capital. Geelani’s struggle is fundamentally moral though it is hard to resist the pervasive ideologies of exclusion in a polarized world and in a way falling in their trap. His conscious attempt to keep the ideal of prophetic wont as a guide may have saved him from making political choices dictated by mere expediency but what can one do when Islam itself gets co-opted into ideological dress?
Geelani’s invoking of Islam – that one can see on almost every page of the current volume and in his every speech – helps him to legitimize the struggle he has undertaken in a larger – cosmic and theological – framework and better appeal his audience that better understands this idiom only, but in a world that has been fashioned according to secular ideals of Enlightenment and where religion has more often than not been appropriated for profane ends and we find confounding of moral and ideological voices, Geelani’s position becomes precarious and may be counterproductive. He hasn’t seen his choices in the larger historical context fashioned by Modernity. The modern dictum of “always historicize” is what he seems to invoke in his own critique of chief actors in the subcontinent and Kashmir in post-1947 politics.
Geeelani has increasingly been facing the public trial and one can find anxiety to acquit himself in the pages of the current volume. One might ask : couldn’t a more professional and perceptive leader  have converted enormous sacrifices of his community (in the form of orphans, widows, strikes, protests, boycotts) into something more concrete for all to see; wouldn’t he have built great institutions that would strategically help achieve the objective? Geelani has had enough of certain virtues to let him be the heartbeat of millions of people of Jammu and Kashmir. But for reasons that we can well understand and because of vices more of in community than his own idiosyncratic and somewhat imposing and authoritarian personality and what has been perceived as  lack of internal debate (this volume seeks to dispel this perception by showing how on every important occasion in-house debate indeed preceded decisions) and inadequate attention to what we can political theory as it has been developing in the world in last few decades, his mission is far from complete.
The discourses of revivalist ideological Islam no longer claims either academic or political respectability it once commanded as much water has flown since Hasanul Banna, Syed Moududi and Syed Qutb dreamt grand dreams. Geelani can inspire action but will that action fructify into something of lasting value is often a moot point.
Geelani has served to stop some disasters to our environment and regional identity; he has helped to keep abuses of democracy in check. He has not been able to prevent some incidents of violence in the name of ideology. One can accuse him on this or that ground for failing to live up to the challenge or cash on the opportunities or unwittingly falling in the bigger games or traps, but what  this approach of fault finding misses is what he has done to better inform or analyse the questions or issues posed. Geelani thinks, seeks advice, calls analysts but still one might feel, at least on occasions, his advisors fail him or his tendency to go by either/or logic fails him. His ego is too often cited as a key culprit. Without endorsing or condoning the charge, one may note that both Abul Kalam Azad and Jinah were accused of big egos. A proper psychological work is yet to be done that could document or analyse this ego fashioning.
Leaders can’t afford too much consultation, too little assertiveness that we may construe as their ego.  Geelani has, I think, his list of charges against the people he leads. His people have been worshipping their own idols or interests, losing their patience. Kashmir or fighting for Kashmir is a challenge as there is a huge hired industry of Arnabs and company, of generals and politicians interested in further confusing and distracting from the real issue. Geelani needs a team work and he has not resisted even certain quantum (though arguably far less than one would wish) of debate within as seen by attempts to organize seminars – that are often not allowed to happen.
It is historical forces that are too huge for even leaders as influential as prophets and as powerful as Hitler to have the last word – or we wouldn’t have Karbalas and Hiroshimas – that are to be better understood. In this task we are helped by political philosophers from Plato to Al-Farabi to Marx to Agamben to Evola. Admiring or criticizing Geelani might miss the basic point of understanding the deeper logic of history or dialectical movement that lets leaders like Sheikh Abdullah to rise and fall. Are we prescient enough to see how 15 or 30 years hence Geelani will be judged by the ultimate judge – history? If we aren’t, our suffering may increase.
Geelani’s chaste Urdu has been much praised but his too scanty references to Urdu literary classics – he has primarily Iqbal to appropriate – show he has limited his canvass in building a narrative he seeks to project. We find only references to Iqbal, selected or pruned as per requirements, Syed Moududi and his school and certain classical Islamic sources and very occasionally contemporary writings as well that constitute the literary universe Geelani builds upon. One can easily see how limiting it is. Islam has a richness and diversity that it is hard to see how one can invoke its tradition to legitimize a particular political doctrine including the key doctrines regarding Hukoomat-i-illahiya we find informing the whole of Geelani corpus. This also explains his unconvincing critique of invoking of Gandhi as incompatible with religious outlook he espouses. Gandhi has been, wrongly, read as complicit with forces of secular democracy.
Geelani is able to present himself as a democrat who sees through the façade called Indian democracy. We need analysts of the calibre of Arundhati Roy and Eqbal Ahmad to articulate the insights that Geelani throws here and there to elaborate a deadly critique of Indian democracy to help the long and difficult struggle get intellectual depth.
For me, Geelani represents the sentiment of people, especially Muslims who have been the primary victims of the unresolved conflict. He mayn’t have been able to articulate this sentiment in the most convincing or sophisticated manner or idiom.
The book is destined to be an archival material of great importance. Kashmiris need to read it to look at certain developments that affected its history with the help of a committed insider. Indians need to read it to see the other side of great Indian democracy and if it has still left any moral claim to the hearts and minds of Kashmiris. Those associated with human rights movements have enough in it to keep them busy for decades. On almost every second page, one has reasons to weep and curse the brutal system linked to vested class interests that requires conflicts and bloodshed.
Geelani’s style deserves a comment; he, generally speaking, respectfully mentions his severest adversaries. He doesn’t forget taking a dig into his ideological adversaries (he has too many of them) and inserts on every third or fourth pages the preacher and ideologue of revivalist Islam he himself consciously identifies with.
His argument for boycotting polls is too briefly stated, rather asserted, and battery of criticisms it has generated are largely ignored.
Despite the fact that he has himself fundamentally presented Kashmir problem as a political and humanitarian problem – “We aren’t promoting Kashmir problem on the grounds of sectarianism but on the basis of historical facts and as human problem to be approached with full consciousness of democratic and human values.”(P.443) — he rejects the thesis that Kashmir is primarily a political issue only. He takes a look at what he calls “tahzeebi yalgaar” and links many current social problems in Kashmir including promoting of drug culture to conscious ideological war by occupying forces – war against moral and social fabric of the State in order to weaken resistance.
Some details are needless. Repetitions that appear jarring are mostly due to reproducing key content of his basic pleas and speeches on Kashmir issue.  I feel the book could be reduced by 100 pages without affecting the essential content. One loves from a leader in an autobiography especially more of the passive voice instead of the active one.
Geelani narrates accounts of many public meetings and Q&A sessions, his encounters with Pandits, Abdullahs, and students. He admirably defends himself. He time and again reminds us about his commitment to Islam and human values.
His book will be a reference for students, research scholars and historians. He emerges as a man with a mission, a man of destiny, a leader who has been and continues to embody hope and idea of new Kashmir.
Geelani tells us regarding his war against sectarianism and many other struggles that are lesser known aspects of his work.
This volume will generate lot of debate as Geelani has explained his position in a rather forceful tone against Jamaat-i- Islami, other Hurriyat factions, and his other erstwhile ideological friends that have turned against him.
A peep into the entertaining style that Geelani is capable of may be gleaned from a tribute to the Editor of Aftab that displays a brilliant wordplay on hot qahwa with black mirchi he was served with when he visited him, and in editorials the editor later wrote. Geelani does deal with some often asked questions regarding his work and policy. He mentions how he took serious notice of a girl’s question regarding his pension and ultimately renounced it. We should ask pointed questions to leaders – these help.
Even though Kashmir is still unresolved, Geelani has won many victories including the stature of symbol of resistance and moral victory against occupying logic. He has won the argument against all status quoists.  He has been instrumental in forcing the mainstream politics to appropriate or evoke or invoke his idiom.  Despite all kinds of criticisms, some genuine and some not, Geelani’s basic position that Kashmir has been mishandled by politicians, local and national, and cries for solution that can be none other than right to self determination remains  the most popular and arguably the most cogent standpoint. Geelani has not only victories but also setbacks or defeats to concede. Geelani can’t die; he lives in the hearts if not the minds of countless Kashmiris. He is loved by almost all those Kashmiris who care to think about tragedy of Kashmir. Geelani has given countless sleepless nights to the administration.
We needn’t advocate Geelani. Geelani has given life to a cause and he has been rewarded by countless admirers though he has a few critics whom he can’t dismiss. I think what Geelani represents as an ideologue of political Islam, a politician, a symbol of resistance, a “role model” for youth needs to be unpacked and a more nuanced and dialectically informed view unearthed. What redeems Geelani against many of his detractors is his indefatigable energy and commitment to fight and absolute clarity of vision regarding the basics.
Geelani Sahab, so many thanks for taking the trouble to document all this despite your issues with health and other engagements. You have inspired to build a new generation that is more convinced and articulate and informed about the K issue. Jeeta ji aap dilaey hind mai kantae ki tarah khataktae rahae. Your “ghostly” image will haunt India as long as it remains here.

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