Throughout his life, Syed Ali Geelani was regarded as the father of separatism in Kashmir. In his life, Na Jukhane Wala, Na Darnae Wale Geelani ( (The one who doesn't bow, Geelani! The one who can't be bought, Geelani!) became popular folklore for the pro-Azadi camp.
Come September 1, marginalized separatists became orphans after he passed away.
The 92- year- old Geelani - once the chairman of Hurriyat Conference - was not seen in public for a long time before his death because of his ill health and house detention. Geelani shut Kashmir down on hundreds of occasions on various issues prior to J&K abrogation of Article 370.
His death on late Tuesday brought back memories of the clampdown that authorities imposed on the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir's special status on August 4, 2019. The severe restrictions on the movement of the public, communication blockade and not allowing the proper funeral of Geelani not only gave an indication about the popularity of the separatist leader but also a message that all is not well in Kashmir after the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated. The fact of the matter is that the reading down of Articles 370 and 35 A remains unacceptable even to most of the unionist political entities.
Now with Geelani's death, who will be his successor? Who can match his persona? Who will lead the struggle? These questions haunt the Azadi camp in Kashmir.
The future of the Hurriyat -- a conglomerate that has been spearheading the separatist movement for the past nearly three decades, seems utterly bleak.
It will be hard to find another Geelani.
Though a staunch pro-Pakistan leader, the late Geelani often opposed bilateral talks between India and Pakistan. He used to insist on the inclusion of Kashmiris in a tripartite dialogue, saying that bilateral talks had never yielded anything. His stance of not succumbing made him a popular leader who had the power to bring Kashmir to halt by a single strike call from his Hyderpora residence in Srinagar.
The separatists have been sitting silently for the last over two years largely due to the massive crackdown by National Investigation Agency (NIA) and other police agencies. Almost the entire separatist leadership except for Mirwazi Umar Farooq – who continues to be in house detention - are in jail.
While there is no one to step into Geelani's shoes, some leaders like Masarat Alam and Yasin Malik have the potential to succeed him. However, both the leaders are under detention. It will be interesting to see what Geelani's sons do as they may be too interested to succeed him. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has a long way to go and he has to prove his commitment, conviction, dedication and allegiance in the coming years.
There is another possibility that the separatist leadership may possibly go directly into the hands of the underground leadership, who in the absence of a credible Hurriyat may call the shots.
There are, however, some optimistic voices that suggest late Geelani would continue to inspire the coming generations in Kashmir.
"Syed Ali Shah Geelani was a symbol of aspiration and an aspiration never die. He remained an inspiration and will continue to remain," a former law professor at Kashmir University, Sheikh Showkat said.
Despite Hurriyat throttling, the separatist sentiment is not gone and it remains. With or without Geelani this sentiment will continue to be a dominant discourse of Kashmir.