When it was in the saddle in New Delhi, the Congress was far too indulgent towards hardcore separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Shabbir Shah, Abdul Gani Bhat and Hashim Qureshi. It tended to look the other way as these hardliners flirted with Pakistan’s ISI.
The softness of the Indian response to those openly espousing separatism has looked utterly misplaced. Recently, today’s hardcore separatists put the new coalition of PDP and BJP in the state to test when the likes of Geelani and Masharat Alam-led demonstrators shouted anti-India slogans and hoisted the Pakistan flag.
Hardly any other country would have taken such open display of secessionism lying down, but BJP’s India too frittered away the opportunity to crack down on these separatists.
While Alam was put behind bars (why on earth was he released earlier?), Geelani went about his nefarious and subversive business, aided and abetted by the ISI. There were no punitive measures against him except that he was under virtual house arrest.
Had the government acted then, the current controversy over not allowing him a passport to go to Saudi Arabia to see his ailing sister would not have escalated. Geelani had been given a passport to travel out of the country in 2007, 2008 and then in 2011 and while he chose not to go in 2011, in the earlier two years he damned India with no holds barred when he was on foreign soil.
This time around when he applied online for a passport, some BJP leaders waxed eloquent on how he would not be allowed unless he apologised for owing allegiance to Pakistan and declared his loyalty to India unambiguously.
Then came the intervention of PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti who appealed to the Modi government to allow Geelani to go as a ‘humanitarian’ gesture.
Overnight, the tone and tenor changed as the Union Government declared that there would be no ‘loyalty test’ for Geelani and that the home and external affairs ministries would soon take a call.
The matter is now in limbo till a formal position is taken by the Union government. Geelani’s incomplete passport application has been rejected on the grounds that he had not filled in the column on nationality, that he had not attached a photo of his and that he had not complied with the requirement to submit himself to biometric tests. But there is still a shyness to say that Geelani is being denied a passport due to his secessionist activities.
Even when the Pakistan High Commissioner to India invited Kashmiri separatist leaders to a reception on the country’s National Day in New Delhi, India first dilly-dallied but finally sent its own minister, General V K Singh, to the function, albeit for 10-15 minutes.
Whatever be the BJP’s flip-flops, it does not behove the Congress to mock at it considering that when it was in power both at the Centre and in the state, the worst examples of spinelessness and weak-kneed policies were on display.
Significantly, the state’s separatists have burnt a Rs 506 crore hole in the taxpayers’ pocket for the protection of separatists in the last financial year alone.
Enough is enough! It is time we stopped mollycoddling separatists and sent out a strong signal that secessionism would not be tolerated.
Kanwar is a former journalist