The Kashmiri public has often pointed out the hypocrisy in Hurriyat leaders in asking the youth to resist Indian occupation, while shielding their own children from the conflict, often sending them outside Kashmir to study and work. This image of Hurriyat might change with the son of the new chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) joining ranks with militants days after his father, Mohammed Ashraf Sehrai, took over the party’s leadership from Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
The valley is seeing a surge in the number of young men taking up arms, many being well-educated and holding professional degrees. Junaid, Ashraf’s son, is the youngest amongst his four children and did his MBA from Kashmir University. A day after he went missing, photographs of him holding a gun started doing the rounds of social media and it became known that he has joined Hizbul Mujahideen.
Ashraf Sehrai recently said in an interview that he will not be appealing to his son to give up militancy as no Hurriyat leader has ever been asked to make such requests. “No senior leader was ever asked to appeal to boys who chose to pick up guns to fight the Indian forces. Their blood was not cheap. Now, I am the father of this boy, but how can I appeal to him?” he asked.
Sehrai took over from Geelani last week as the interim chairman until organisational elections scheduled for late this year. A Hurriyat spokesman made a statement saying, “In a unanimous decision taken in an extraordinary meeting of the Majlis-e-Shoora, its highest decision-making body, the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat appointed Mr. Sehrai as an interim chairman till the organisational elections to be held late this year.”
The decision to choose new leadership has been long overdue in light of Geelani’s ailing health. The 87-year old has undergone multiple surgeries in the recent past. He has also faced constant restrictions on his movements in the last few years. “For the last 8 years of continuous house arrest, restrictions on the interactions with my party colleagues has dented the function of the organisation. Merely holding a position without practical contribution is injustice not only with the post, but the conscience as well, so today I willfully step-down from the chairmanship,” he said at the meeting where Sehrai was chosen.
Some of these restrictions were eased off on Thursday with the police saying that the three leaders of the Joint Resistance Leadership, Syed Ali Geelani, Mohammad Yasin Malik, and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, are free to go where they want. The catch to this freedom is that the three cannot make any “anti-national” speeches or create “law and order” problems.
In choosing Sehrai, Geelani has been able to pave way for the next generation of TeH leadership, and has also assured that the same school of thought remains at Hurriyat’s helm.
Sehrai and Geelani both come from Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist organisation. Both share a strong belief in Islam and hold religion close to the Kashmiri cause. Geelani spent the early years of his political career as a leader of Jamaat, winning three assembly elections.
But his association with Jamaat ended when the Islamist group chose to distance itself from militancy. Geelani went on to form a new party, TeH, in 2004. Sehrai, who had been a member of Jamaat until then also quit along with Geelani, and has held the post of Secretary General of TeH ever since its foundation.
Geelani will continue to head his faction in the Hurriyat Conference, Hurriyat (G), and will also remain a part of the Joint Resistance Leadership. Geelani has held the reputation of being a hardliner all these years by refusing negotiations with New Delhi unless the Centre accepts the disputed nature of Kashmir, and holds tripartite talks with both Pakistan and the separatist leadership on the table along with India. Sehrai is expected to hold a similar stance.
With Geelani stepping down, some worry about the Hurriyat’s future. But it seems unlikely that separatist sentiment will die out anytime soon, especially under the current political dispensation and its hardened stance towards the state. Hurriyat is still the only political outlet of separatist sentiment. It remains to be seen how Sehrai will fare as the face of TeH.