SRINAGAR, India: One of Indian Kashmir’s best-known separatist leaders, Sayed Ali Geelani, is battling an acute respiratory infection and has been flown to New Delhi for hospital treatment, a party spokesman said Thursday.
Geelani, 84, has for years suffered from multiple health ailments including a heart condition that requires a pacemaker and serious kidney problems.
The leader, who describes India’s rule of disputed Kashmir as a “military occupation” and who has been a vehement campaigner for the territory’s right to self-determination, fell seriously ill March 5.
On Wednesday, the ailing separatist refused to travel to Delhi on a state government aircraft offered to him by authorities and instead flew by a regular commercial flight the next day, aides said.
“We believed the government wanted to gain political mileage out of Geelani’s illness by offering him travel on a state aircraft,” his spokesman, Ayaz Akbar, told AFP in Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city.
Aides said Geelani was expected to receive treatment in a hospital in the New Delhi satellite city of Gurgaon, which boasts many high-tech medical treatment centers.
Geelani has spent most of the last three years under house arrest, amid Indian accusations of inciting violence.
He draws large crowds whenever he is allowed to move around.
Whenever Geelani is allowed to address a gathering, it leads to a “serious law-and-order problem,” the government said in a 2011 statement.
Geelani’s popularity has steadily expanded since an armed rebellion against Indian rule of Kashmir erupted in 1989, which led to deployment of more than half a million Indian forces in the Himalayan territory.
His followers come from three generations of Kashmiris who often describe Geelani as their “untiring” leader. The former three-time lawmaker has refused to hold any dialogue with New Delhi until it “accepts Kashmir as disputed territory” as against its oft-repeated claim that the Muslim-majority territory is “an integral part of India.”
Discontent against Indian rule is deep-rooted in Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan and claimed in full by both.