Geelani Held To Stall Eid March8 September 2010
The Indian Express
Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir government on Wednesday arrested hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani in an apparent bid to stall his Eid march to Hazratbal where he was scheduled to offer prayers. Geelani, who has spearheaded the current unrest, is unlikely to be released before the festival. Last Sunday, Geelani had declined Hurriyat moderate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s suggestion for joint prayers at Eidgah, the city’s biggest prayer ground. Instead, he expressed his desire to offer prayers at Hazratbal shrine, the Valley’s most important religious place which has been barred from separatist activities for the past two decades. “I will use the occasion at Hazratbal to reach out to the people and tell them we need to stand together to take this struggle forward,” Geelani said. While Geelani’s decision to choose a different prayer ground may have set back the ongoing Hurriyat unity efforts, his selection of Hazratbal had its own political overtones. Unlike Grand Mosque in the heart of Srinagar which belongs to Mirwaiz, Hazratbal has been a traditional bastion of the ruling National Conference. Eidgah is another place of religious importance. While the first has been an exclusive NC preserve, the Grand Mosque and the Eidgah have been controlled by the Mirwaiz family. Geelani’s decision to pray at Hazratbal, where CM Omar Abdullah is also likely to pray, was a veiled attempt at a takeover of the NC’s symbol of political control of Srinagar. In the past three months, the party’s other prominent political symbols - its founder Sheikh Abdullah’s ancestral house at Soura and his mausoleum near Hazratbal - have been unsuccessfully attacked by stone-throwing protesters. The separatist prayer at Hazratbal has, therefore, been seen as a calculated move to deny the NC its most important platform in Valley. This is what the NC has quickly moved to pre-empt. Hazratbal’s connection with Abdullahs goes far back. It was here that Sheikh Abdullah primarily built his political reputation, first as a resistance leader against Dogra rulers and later as the head of a political movement against the policies of New Delhi, which finally culminated in 1975 accord between him and the former PM Indira Gandhi. After Sheikh, his son Farooq Abdullah and grandson Omar Abdullah have tried to further strengthen this connection. It is this legacy that Geelani seeks to upstage.