Contenders in Line But Geelani Rules Out Succession Till "After My Death"
SRINAGAR: Putting speculations over succession in his faction of Hurriyat Conference at rest, veteran Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani Monday said the issue will be settled only after his death.
"The office-bearers of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) and allied Hurriyat parties will take a decision on that (succession) after my death,” Geelani told reporters during a press conference called by the separatist leader at his Hyderpora residence after the state government eased restrictions on him.
Hours ahead of the presser, heightened speculations, fuelled by a news report in an English weekly, were doing rounds that the Hurriyat patriarch, whose medical complications have worsened over the last few months, was going to announce the name of his successor.
However, the issue didn't surface during his interaction with media persons on Monday where he hit out at the government for turning the state into a "virtual jail" for separatist leaders. Geelani's remarks on succession in the Hurriyat were induced by the question of a reporter.
Political observers in Kashmir see the TeH's general secretary, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, as one of his successors. Geelani, a three-time former legislator of the state assembly, and Sehrai have worked together in Jamaat-e-Islami for decades. They floated the TeH together in 2003 after the Hurriyat Conference suffered a split.
Over the years, Geelani's Hurriyat, which has entrenched itself into the psyche of Kashmiri nationalism, hogged headline with its bold, pro-freedom stance, thereby gaining significant foothold among the young population of the restive state who have been battered under years of turmoil and political manoeuvring by New Delhi.
Buoyed by the civilian unrests of 2008, 2009 and 2010, Geelani, 86, who is battling several ailments including cancer and survives on half kidney, started commanding a mass following in almost all the districts of Kashmir and some parts of Chenab Valley.
Another key leader of the Hurriyat, who is seen as successor to Geelani, is Masarat Alam Bhat who has been famously accused of having "anti-India sentiment in his blood". Alam shot to limelight during the Amarnath land row in 2008 when he issued protest calendars which shook the state from within.
With around 27 cases in various police stations of the Valley against him, Alam, who got his schooling from Tyndale Biscoe, one of the top Christian missionary schools in Jammu and Kashmir, has since remained mostly in jail and he is unlikely to get an relief in coming months and years.
Another incarcerated leader, who is seen as a successor of Geelani, is Mohammad Qasim Faktoo, who is in jail from the last three decades. Although Faktoo, husband of Dukhtaran-e-Millat chief Asiya Andrabi, has remained out of public imagination, he is believed to have a considerable sway on matters of separatist politics in Kashmir.