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Geelani’s political legacy hits a dead end with Fantoosh’s death

The late separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s legacy has taken a big hit with the death in New Delhi of his son-in-law Altaf Ahmad Shah a.k.a Fantoosh

Separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s 66-year-old son-in-law,  Altaf Ahmad Shah a.k.a Fantoosh, died at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on Tuesday. Arrested in 2017 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in a case of alleged terror-funding, Shah was lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. He had been lately shifted to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital after his renal cancer spread to other organs. Under court orders, he was admitted to AIIMS where he survived for only four days.

Shah’s mortal remains were silently interred in his residential neighbourhood of Soura, in Srinagar. After Geelani’s death at the age of 92 years in September 2021, Shah’s departure comes as a major setback for the decades-long separatism in the Kashmir valley.

Fighting for Kashmir’s separation from India and its annexation to Pakistan on the basis of religion, Geelani held the key of a political and terrorist turbulence for over 30 years. He enjoyed unflinching support not only from Pakistan’s Army and establishment but also from every single jihadist outfit in the valley. For the last 30 years of life, he spurred armed insurgency and served as a steadfast barrier for any potential political dialogue between New Delhi and the valley’s separatists.

Before 1990, Geelani had grown as an influential Jamaat-e-Islami leader who contested 8 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, winning 3 in 1972, 1977 and 1987. For at least 10 years—2008 to 2016—his shutdown calendars paralysed life in the valley. He was politically as well as physically immobilised only after the BJP withdrew support from the PDP and brought down Mehbooba Mufti as J&K’s Chief Minister in June 2018.

Among two of Geelani’s sons, five daughters and five sons-in-law, Shah alone was involved in his politics. On account of this distinction, for some time he was speculated as Geelani’s successor in the Hurriyat alongside late Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai and advocate Mian Abdul Qayoom.

However, the situation changed drastically after the killing of 40 CRPF personnel in a terror attack on the Srinagar-Jammu highway in February 2019. The erstwhile State was stripped of its special status and reorganised into two Union Territories in August 2019.

Even as Geelani, booked in scores of FIRs, was held in home detention, all of his political colleagues and important Tehreek-e-Hurriyat workers were arrested and jailed. Sehrai broke away from Geelani after he was appointed as head of Geelani’s organisation by his handlers in the Pakistani establishment. Sehrai was immediately arrested and lodged in different jails. Finally, while in detention he died at Government Medical College Hospital Jammu in May 2021.

Geelani himself died in September 2021, leaving behind a vacuum to be filled by nobody as both the potential contenders of his succession, Mian Qayoom and Altaf Fantoosh, were arrested and jailed.

Qayoom was released on a bail bond and undertaking by the Supreme Court of India in August 2020. One of the most prominent separatist leaders inclined to Geelani and active for about 30 years, Qayoom has not participated in any political activity after his release. Neither of Geelani’s sons, Nayeem and Naseem, has been associated with his politics. One is a physician, not in government service, and another is a professor with Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology (SKUAST) Kashmir.

Of his five sons-in-law, only Fantoosh and Iftikhar Gilani, a prominent journalist now based in Ankara, have been in the limelight. Iftikhar was arrested during the NDA-I regime but released after nothing adverse was established against him. He has maintained distance from Geelani, his family and politics.

Fantoosh ran a hosiery shop near Clock Tower at Lalchowk. Influenced by Geelani and his Jamaat-e-Islami, Fantoosh contested one Assembly election unsuccessfully against the National Conference leader Ali Mohammad Sagar from Zainakadal, Srinagar, in the 1980s.

After 1990 and his marriage with Geelani’s daughter, Fantoosh emerged as the separatist hardliner’s alter ego. When the separatists with the help of the militants captured the then Jhelum Valley Medical College, Fantoosh handled its affairs on behalf of Geelani. Later in 1996-97, when Farooq Abdullah regained power, his government took over the college and kicked out all the Hurriyat-backed administrators.

Thereafter, Fantoosh attended many of the meetings which were presided over by Geelani. Among all family members and relatives, he alone emerged as his confidante who managed things on his behalf but maintained a low-key image. He figured in the charges framed by the J&K Government’s Police organisation, Counter Intelligence Kashmir (CIK), now part of the State Investigation Agency (SIA). He had allegedly received Rs 5 crore from the PDP youth leader and then Secretary J&K Sports Council Waheed-ur-Rehman Para on behalf of Geelani.

The CIK investigation claimed that the money was sent from the PDP Government to Geelani through Para and Fantoosh. While the case is under trial, Para has been released on bail early this year.

Fantoosh also came into limelight when his son Anees-ul-Islam was appointed as a manager at Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) during Mehbooba Mufti’s government in the thick a Geelani-sponsored turmoil in 2016. Some media reports called it favouritism, suggesting some quid pro quo between Mehbooba and Geelani. In October 2021, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha ordered termination of his services. Neither he nor his sister, journalist Ruwa Shah, has ever shown interest in carrying forward grandfather Geelani’s legacy.

Fantoosh’s death has ended the chapter of the political influence of Geelani’s family in Kashmir.

Also Read:  Syed Ali Shah Geelani (1929-2021)- a separatist who chased a mirage