Sparks Fly When Kashmir's Two Patriarchs Met In Delhi19 March 2011
Times of India
New Delhi: It was rare in the two-decade-old troubled history of Kashmir - the two grand old men of the state's political divide sharing the dais for the first time. Predictably, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah and unabashedly pro-Pakistani separatist Syed Geelani used the occasion to blast one another. The two leaders spoke on Saturday on 'Kashmir, What next?' at a conclave. But they provided no answers to problems of Jammu and Kashmir. While Abdullah, a union minister who heads the state's ruling National Conference, digressed from Kashmir to the situation in Pakistan, Geelani stuck to his UN-supervised-plebiscite demand. Former Union minister Arif Mohammed Khan, the third speaker, focussed more on the situation of migrants in India and Pakistan after the 1947 partition. The discussion began on a note of dissent by the 82-year-old Geelani. He objected to Abdullah's inclusion into the debate. Abdullah's name was not in the speakers list distributed earlier. 'You can treat a disease but you cannot cure a habit. Farooq Sahib is compelled by the the habit of gate crashing and that is why he stands between us today,' Geelani said. The 74-year-old Abdullah, the first speaker, had earlier stoked Geelani's anger with his speech. 'I am happy. This is the greatness of the Indian republic that we have the guts to hear that we may not like to,' he said, referring to an expected anti-India speech by Geelani. Abdullah said Kashmir would never secede from India. 'We will accept everything but not the division. We are not ready for that. There is no question of plebiscite,' he said, adding Pakistan was itself a divided state where moderates like Salman Tahseer and Christian minister Shahbaz Bhatti were being killed and 'murderers welcomed'. Khan hit out at Geelani, perhaps where it hurts him the most. He reminded the octogenarian of successfully contesting assembly elections thrice before heralding the separatist movement in 1989. 'He has taken oaths as a member of the assembly. Look at the freedom in this country! He has the freedom to trash the constitution he once took oath under. Geelani Sahib, first you take oath of allegiance to the nation, you become disloyal, and now you are trying to break the nation. What a freedom you have!' At this Geelani looked stunned. When he rose to speak, his first defence was why he fought elections under the Indian constitution. 'I fought elections because I was looking for a democratic way to solve the dispute. And for that matter, the Indian National Congress also fought elections in 1935 under the British rule and nobody questioned them why they were demanding freedom from Britishers.' Geelani said the Kashmir 'dispute' was all about 'broken promises by India'. He alleged that miseries were piled on Kashmiris by lakhs of armed forces personnel in the state. 'One lakh people killed, 7,000 women raped, 10,000 forced disappearances, 100,000 tortured, 50,000 orphans, 30,000 widows, 2,700 unidentified graves, 1,000 half widows,' Geelani summed up the Kashmir story in statistics he counts on his fingers quite routinely. The figures are dubbed 'exaggerated' by officials. Even activists dispute these numbers. Geelani was booed at by the audience when he denied that the Muslim majority was to blame for the exodus of some 300,000 Kashmiri Hindus from the state. 'They were moved out of the Kashmir Valley as part of the state-hatched conspiracy. We were not responsible for that.' At this the Darbar Hall of the Taj Palace hotel reverberated with loud 'oooooh' bringing to close the session.