World Bulletin/News Desk
The most powerful leader in India-occupied Kashmir on Friday launched a boycott campaign against upcoming 2014 State Assembly elections.
"They [pro-India political parties] have been shouting that they would change things on the ground, but what change can they bring when they are working under the aegis of a military occupation," Syed Ali Geelani thundered while addressing thousands of enthusiastic supporters in the north Kashmir town of Sopore.
He insisted that, for Kashmiris, there was no difference between the various pro-India parties that were contesting elections, saying they all merely represented "occupation."
"We must boycott this election," Geelani told the crowd, which applauded and shouted pro-freedom slogans.
He dismissed as "farce" promises by mainstream politicians to bring change to the Himalayan region, urging the people not to pay heed to them.
The present state government is run by a coalition between the Kashmir-based National Conference Party and the Congress Party.
Geelani, a former member of the Legislative Assembly from the Jamaat-e-Islami Party who served before the outbreak of the armed resistance in Kashmir in 1989, has been one of the staunchest opponents of elections over the last two decades.
During the 2008 State Assembly election, Geelani and other political leaders urged the people to boycott elections and it was widely believed that a strict election boycott would happen.
Some 1,354 candidates from 43 political parties contested the polls that year, and people voted in large numbers to the surprise of everyone, including pro-India politicians, pro-independence leaders and experts.
A voter turnout of more than 60 percent was registered in the 2008 election, which India's ruling Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi lauded as a "victory for Indian democracy in Kashmir" and a "death knell for separatist politics" in the region.
But two leaders later, in 2010, when Kashmir was shut for more than six months to demand independence from India, Geelani, again, emerged as the supreme leader.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.
The two countries have fought three full-fledged wars -- in 1948, 1965 and 1971 -- since partition in 1947, two of which were fought over Kashmir.
Since 1989, Kashmiri resistance groups in IHK have been fighting for independence or unification with neighboring Pakistan.
More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict so far.
The 85-year-old leader was released earlier this week after being kept under house arrest for almost eight months, exactly 236 days, by the Jammu and Kashmir government.
During these eight months, he was barred from leaving his residential compound and from attending Friday prayers.
Today, Geelani traveled in a caravan of vehicles to Sopore, his hometown, located some 55 km northwest of Srinagar, where several thousand people were waiting for him at the town's main square.
Large banners that eulogized resistance politics in Kashmir and the several slain armed militants of Sopore could be seen waving at the rally site.
After the rally ended, several young men pelted police with stones. Police fired teargas canisters into the crowd.
Geelani visited the family of Afzal Guru, who was hanged by Indian authorities in February for his involvement in the 2003 parliament attack.
He paid tribute to Guru as a "martyr."
Geelani also visited the home of a slain commander killed in October of last year.
He told the people that "the sun of freedom will not dawn upon us until we learn to be disciplined."
Geelani has repeatedly called for an internationally-supervised plebiscite in which Kashmiris could choose their own fate.Last Mod: 02 Kasım 2013, 09:17