The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt goes slow on Hurriyat invite

New Delhi, Sept. 5: The central government is in no hurry to follow up on deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s invitation to Hurriyat Conference leaders to meet him when they are in the capital.

The reason why the Centre prefers to go slow is that it is carefully watching what Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a former chairman of the separatist combine, is up to.

It is not yet clear who has finally won in the tussle between moderate Hurriyat leaders and their earlier colleague. On the face of it, Geelani has lost the first round, but he has the backing of all sections of militants operating in Kashmir and that could be the deciding factor.

So the Centre, though much more disposed towards the Hurriyat led by moderate Shia cleric Abbas Ansari, does not want to rush into talks till the power equation becomes clear.

Ever since he was ousted from the Hurriyat after an unseemly wrangle with the moderates, Geelani has been drawing huge crowds after Friday prayers at mosques across the Valley. Many believe he is testing the waters before launching his own party, which he has threatened to do.

Another reason for Geelani’s popularity is the commonly held view in Srinagar that Delhi’s agencies had a role in ousting him from the Hurriyat and cleaning it out for the government to eventually do business with the organisation. But if Geelani manages to steal the Hurriyat’s thunder, it would be a waste of time for the Centre to get cosy with a group which may not support the sentiments of the common Kashmiri.

This is why the Centre is in no hurry to give a time and date for a meeting with Hurriyat leaders. The deputy Prime Minister’s invitation would have been much more specific if he was certain that they represent Kashmiris who have so far opted to stay out of the democratic process.

State officials agree that Geelani’s popularity is rising, but are quick to point out that Kashmiris often like their leaders to “speak against” Delhi and the Indian leadership. “They enjoy listening to such remarks, but it does not count for more than that,” said a senior police official who is monitoring the former Hurriyat leader’s speeches.

Geelani, disliked by the Centre for his alleged hardline pro-Pakistani views, no longer represents his party at the Hurriyat. Since returning to Srinagar after being released from jail on grounds of ill health, Geelani has accused the Lone brothers — son’s of slain Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone — of going against the diktats of the Hurriyat by allowing dummy candidates to participate in the elections. But before Geelani could divide the Hurriyat between the moderates and the hardliners, his party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, refused to endorse his position as the party’s nominee to the Hurriyat.

It is clear that Geelani is liked by a section of Kashmiris which is against Delhi. However, one senior Hurriyat leader, who was also a former chairman of the group, is not impressed by Geelani’s threats to launch a new party. “He is noisy, but most of it is empty threat,” the leader, who did not want to be identified, said.

“If he was confident, he would have launched a new party by now,” the former colleague, who has known Geelani for over 50 years, added.

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