SRINAGAR: The advisory council of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Jammu Kashmir today elected Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai as its chairman, replacing Syed Ali Geelani who has been holding the charge since the formation of the group in 2004.

Top Hurriyat sources said the election was held at the Geelani’s Srinagar residence during the executive council meeting today and it was attended by all the constituents who have got the voting rights as well as senior separatist leaders who voted to replace the ailing Hurriyat veteran with Sehrai.

“Geelani will continue to remain the patron of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and chairman of his faction of Hurriyat Conference,” GA Gulzar, senior Hurriyat leader and spokesman of the organization, told The Citizen over phone. Sehrai, who was the general secretary of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat untill his elevation today, and Geelani formed the group in 2005 after parting ways from their parent organisation, Jama’at-i-Islami, over the latter’s alleged role in the state assembly elections which brought the ruling PDP into power for first time.

“Sehrai played an important role in the formation of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. Although Geelani had offered him chairmanship three years ago it was halted by the party due to ethical issues,” sources said, adding that the failing health of Geelani may have hastened the change of guard in the Hurriyat.

The development comes amid mounting pressure on the Hurriyat to engage with New Delhi on Kashmir issue and days after Geelani revealed that an officer of the Intelligence Bureau visited his Hyderpora residence with the offer of talks with the Centre that he apparently turned down.

Separatists have come under increased public scrutiny and their “worn-out politics” of hartals that has taken a huge economic toll on the state, has been criticized severely but the change of guard in Tehreek-e-Hurriyat is unlikely to make any difference in its decision making process.

“Sehrai saheb is more radical than Geelani saheb,” a top Hurriyat leader said while breaking into laughter, “Those who think the change of guard will make any difference in our approach to Kashmir problem are living in fool’s paradise.”