Syed Ali Shah Geelani certainly isn't an Indian; but he is not a Kashmiri either

Separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has applied for an Indian passpost and then went on to say he is not an Indian by birth. He is right, but for reasons unrelated to what he stands for.

R Jagannathan June 07, 2015 11:13:28 IST
Syed Ali Shah Geelani certainly isn't an Indian; but he is not a Kashmiri either

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the Islamist bigot who provides ideological cover for anti-India rhetoric and periodic violence by separatists, says he is not an Indian by birth. He said: "I am not an Indian by birth. It's a compulsion that we have to travel with an Indian passport." He has applied for an Indian passport because he wants to meet his ailing daughter in Saudi Arabia.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani certainly isnt an Indian but he is not a Kashmiri either

Syed Ali Shah Geelani had said that he was an Indian out of 'compulsion'. Reuters

Geelani is absolutely right, but not for the reasons he may not want to believe. If applying for an Indian passport is a "compulsion", his statement about his non-Indianness is even more of a "compulsion". He had to say it to keep up the pretense that he is the uncompromising hero of Kashmiri "azaadi". Without this statement, his patrons across the border would have had to look for some other bigot to play their deadly games in Jammu and Kashmir. The compulsions thus run both ways. The Pakistani deep state does not aid and abet Kashmiris to foster Kashmiriyat. They want Kashmiris to become Islamists, and anti-Hindu.

This is why, in an interview two years ago to Dawn, Geelani was busy sucking up to Pakistan. He said then: “Kashmir was (as per the terms of partition) a natural part of Pakistan. And it is a natural part of Pakistan. At the time of the partition in 1947, we had 85 percent Muslim population in the whole of Jammu & Kashmir. Not only do we share boundaries with Pakistan but we also relate to Pakistan so far as our geographical, cultural and religious affiliations are concerned. Now, why am I also open to the idea of independent Kashmir? As a leader, I can’t reject the voice of the people.”

So, the real question is not whether Geelani is Indian, but whether he is even a Kashmiri. If he had had his way, he would want the Sharia in Kashmir - making non-Muslims and even progressive Muslims second-class citizens. The syncretism of Kashmiriyat is missing in him; at best, you can call him a hyphenated Kashmiri - a narrow Muslim Kashmiri. He is Kashmiri only by a distortion of the meaning of the term Kashmiriyat. His real views are Islamist. Among his statements are these: "India has a secular system, which we can under no condition accept." Also: "It is as difficult for a Muslim to live in a non-Muslim society as it is for a fish to live in a desert." (Read this interview here to understand his narrow Islamist views)

However, there are good, liberal reasons to accept Geelani's statement at face value.

First, no one should inflict his own sense of nationhood or identity on another, least of all the Indian state, which is fundamentally plural in character. The sense of being part of a "nation" is largely a product of shared values, experiences and emotional connectedness, and if Geelani does not feel connected to India, so be it. But "nation" is different from "state". Geelani cannot refuse to follow the laws of the Indian state even if he is emotionally disconnected from the idea/ideas of India.

As I have argued earlier, there can be several ideas of national identity within one "state", and several states can exist separately in a common sense of "nation". Post-1947 India is an example of several ideas of nation exiting in one state; pre-1947 India, where Indians lived in separate states, is an example of people living in separate states but with some common notions of nationhood.

Muslims belonging to the same sect of Islam can also think of themselves as one nation living in separate states. An example would be the several Sunni or Shia states in the Middle East. Shias and Sunnis form separate nations within the idea of Islam as one does not accept the doctrines of the other - often murderously so (as in Pakistan and Iraq).

Second, Geelani is right for reasons he cannot even begin to fathom. No one becomes an Indian in mental make-up except by practice and choice. An Indian is one who chooses to accept diversity and difference as the norm; she adopts the idea of live and let live; he does not make religion a reason for discord and/or discrimination. Many “Hindus” would also fail this test of Indianness, but Geelani misses his pass-grade by a mile. He is certainly not Indian.

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