Is it tempest in a teacup? Or in the row over the issuance of travel documents to Syed Ali Shah Geelani for visiting his ailing daughter in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia there is some bigger political game.
In refusing Indian passport and denying right to offer obligatory congregational Friday prayers to the octogenarian leader does New Delhi like a ring master use the tactics to bring him around? Or it wants to send a message to all the factions of the Hurriyat and their offshoots that the new dispensation in New Delhi along with its combine in Srinagar is not to going to brook any dissent in the much orchestrated position of Sangh Parivar on Jammu and Kashmir. In dealing with the Hurriyat Conferences, it seems that New Delhi has erased all distinction between "moderate" and "hard-line" in its 'lexicon- Kashmiri'.
Notwithstanding these questions and perceptions rife in public domain. The 'dominant discourse on providing' travel documents to the Hurriyat (G) chairman orchestrated through some corporate television channels on the face of its seems nothing but much ado about nothing.
Syed Ali Geelani has never travelled to Pakistan. Nevertheless, he has travelled to many countries around the world on an Indian passport, according to one of his supporters, "In the same manner as Gandhi, Nehru, Savarkar, Subhash Chandra and others fighting war of independence travelled on His Majesty's travel documents to UK and Germany."
In 1981 along with other important Jammat-i-Islamia leaders he visited the United States. In the state of Indiana, he participated in international conference organized by Islamic Organization of North America (ISNA). And during his stay in the United States accompanied by some important Kashmiri diaspora he visited many important cities and also visited England. Towards end of 1984, he performed Haj. In the post 1990 scenario, or in his avatar as one of the most important leaders of the Hurriyat Conference he was provided travel documents on a couple of occasion. In 1994, he was given travel documents (pilgrim pass) to perform Haj by the Haj Committee of India, which directly works under Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. That year, draped in Ihram he was stopped at the emigration counter and stopped from boarding the aeroplane thus stopped from performing Haj. The reason perhaps was New Delhi had become suspicious about the intentions behind the pilgrimage as almost entire Hurriyat Executive and some twenty others known supporters of right to self-determination were travelling to Mecca. In 1995, he and some of his family members were allowed to perform Haj. In 2007, he was taken seriously ill and needed to go for Kidney surgery to the United State. Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh without much of a hassle had ordered issuance of passport to him on "humanitarian grounds". However, the USA did not issue a visa to him.
Most of the leaders in vanguard of 'movement for resolution of Kashmir dispute' have been travelling to Islamabad and other world capitals. True, some are provided Passport for a limited period, some for routinely for ten years, some seek the same through intervention of the courts and some others including persons from academia and media are continuously denied right to travel abroad. Instances, are replete in the history of the state when New Delhi enthusiastically facilitated travel of Kashmir leaders to Islamabad. From 2004 to 2007, during the composite dialogue and Musharraf 4pt formula the enthusiasm over encouraging Kashmir leaders to travel to Islamabad was at its peak.
True, Geelani for his 'unwavering stand and indomitable will' has emerged as symbol of resistance but it would be wrong to say that he is the only resistance leader of the state. Nevertheless, some television channels have made people across India believe that once Geelani swears by sovereignty and integrity of India and indicates his nationality as Indian in passport form , Kashmir problem will be solved once for all times to come.
So the fuss over issuance of travel documents to Geelani is not all about technicalities or something conjured by "hyper-nationalist" television channels. History makes one to believe, it is an arm-twisting tactics aimed at creating a dent in the major Kashmir narrative. Using of travel documents as a political weapon in Kashmir has a long history. The Sikhs (1819-1846) had 'introduced a permit system known as Rahdari which prohibited any person from going outside Kashmir without permission of governor. This ban had twin purpose, one to prevent Kashmiris from carrying tales of oppression and misrule to people and power centres in the British India, second, 'it afforded an opportunity to the regime to enrich itself by extracting money from traders and travellers intending to go out.' It was during the Dogra regime that under public pressure the practice was changed. In this column it is not possible to recount the whole story how Passports and visas were used for deriving diplomatic and political mileages. Two good examples could be of Sheikh Abdullah and Mirwaiz M. Yusuf Shah. In 1964, the GOI of India not only provided passport to Sheikh Abdullah and his lieutenants but also facilitated their travel to Islamabad for talking to President Ayub Khan for resolution of Kashmir "problem." In 1965, Sheikh, his wife Akbar Jehan and Afzal Beg went to Saudi Arabia and other countries. And while he was still travelling, his passport was cancelled, forcing him to return. He was arrested at Delhi airport, placed under detention and his passport was impounded.
In 1958, Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah wanted to bid adieu to Rawalpindi and return to Srinagar for fulfilling his religious obligations as head preacher- in his absence no other from the Mirwaiz clan was delivering sermons in Jamia Masjid. Indian Embassy in Pakistan conceded to his request and granted him visa and permission to return to Srinagar. On his way to Srinagar, he arrived with bag and baggage to Amritsar. Bamazia, Nehru's envoy arrived at Amritsar for getting a statement drafted at New Delhi condemning Jinnah and his two nation theory signed by him before allowing him to travel to Srinagar. Mirwaiz out rightly declined to sign the document. His visa was cancelled and from Amritsar only he was humiliatingly forced to return to Rawalpindi- never ever to visit Srinagar.
History tells more about hullaballoo about Geelani's passport than statement coming out from corridors of power in the capital.