Masarat Alam Bhat, who is in Tihar jail, was on Tuesday named the successor of Syed Ali Geelani in Hurriyat Conference (G) following the death of the nonagenarian leader last week.
In a statement issued to media on Tuesday, the faction of the Hurriyat claimed that the people of Jammu and Kashmir look up to the amalgam’s leadership with great expectations.
It said that Shabir Ahmad Shah and Ghulam Ahmad Gulzar have been elected as vice-chairmen.
The appointments are temporary till elections are held according to the Hurriyat constitution, the faction said.
Bhat, who was charge-sheeted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in October 2019, is at present lodged in the Tihar Jail.
Who Is Masarat?
On June 11, 2010, protests erupted in Downtown, the heart of Srinagar city against a fake encounter in Machil in northern Kashmir. In the days to come, protests erupted across the capital city throwing Kashmir into a simmering discontent for months to come.
Many expected the stone-throwing protests in Kashmir to die down as popular separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani was put under detention. But, the protests not only continued but even gained vigor. In that period, it was Masarat Alam Bhat who spearheaded the protests in Srinagar by formulating the protest calendars.
Alam, who had been under detention since 2008, was released on June 8, 2010, only three days before the teenager, Tufail Mattoo, was killed after a tear gas canister was shot at him from a close range. The subsequent outcry over the death added momentum to Alam’s political career.
However, it was in 2008 that Alam emerged as a significant political force. His role in the unrest, triggered by the transfer of land to the Amarnath shrine board, put him into the public eye. Realising his newfound political clout, the authorities arrested him for 21 months.
Alam, an alumnus of Kashmir’s posh missionary school Tyndale Biscoe, was first arrested in 1990 and was released more than a year later, in November 1991. He was detained for a second time in 1993 and kept in custody for more than four years and was released in February 1997.
Few days after Mattoo’s death, Alam went into hiding. On June 24, he announced a protest calendar from an undisclosed location, under the banner of “Quit Kashmir Movement.”
Eventually, his role during the 2010 unrest made Alam a formidable separatist force. His sudden prominence forced the authorities to announce a bounty of Rs15 lakh on his head—and he became, for a time, the valley’s “most wanted” separatist leader.
During the 2010 unrest, at least 120 civilians were killed and hundreds were injured with pellet guns that were used for the first time then.
In 2015, a former police officer Ashiq Bukhari, who led the team that caught Masrat Alam in 2010 stirred up a controversy, with media reports citing him saying that the then Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdullah, wanted Alam dead. According to the report, Bukhari, who was Srinagar’s senior superintendent of police, also claimed that Abdullah rewarded him for arresting Alam by paying Rs 15 lakh from his own pocket.
“The chief minister greeted me, but asked on the phone: ‘Why didn’t you bump off this man? Why did you get him alive’,” Bukhari had said.
He was arrested in October that year and again booked under the PSA – termed a lawless law by Amnesty International — after months of hiding and issuing protest calendars. Alam has been detained 38 times under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act or PSA (1978) since his first arrest in 1991.
Despite many years in detention for his role in separatist politics, Masarat’s position as a leader was still unknown to most of the people in Kashmir.
Alam was briefly released for 45 days as the top Kashmir court canceled his 33rd detention order on March 8, 2015. But the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party – an ally of then J&K government led by Peoples Democratic Party – protested against his release after he raised slogans ‘Teri Jaan, Meri Jaan, Pakistan Pakistan’ at a rally in Srinagar. Subsequently, he was arrested again and remains in detention since then.
In the years since 2010, many political pundits pitched the science graduate as the successor to Geelani.