Syed Ali Shah Geelani
Syed Ali Shah Geelani | Commons
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The move was long overdue given the deteriorating health of the octogenarian Kashmiri separatist leader.

New Delhi: The octogenarian Kashmiri separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has named his closest aide Muhammad Ashraf Ali as the new chief of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH), which he formed in 2004 after he parted ways with Jamaat-e-Islami, a religio-political organisation of the Valley.

The change of guard was long overdue because of Geelani’s deteriorating health. But it is not expected to alter the position of the TeH on Kashmir, which is Kashmir’s ‘separation from India’.

Ashraf Ali, popularly known as Ashraf Sehrai (74), has worked with the Hurriyat stalwart for more than 50 years.

Despite this organisational change, Geelani continues to be the chairman of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference (G) of which TeH is a constituent.

Given Geelani’s health, there is also a possibility that Sehrai could sooner or later take over as the head of Hurriyat Conference (G).

“Both the leaders come from the same school of thought…and the element of trust between them is unmatched,” Prof. Gul Mohammad Wani of University of Kashmir told The Print.

The move will also lead to a revamp in the organisation in the form of more interaction with the cadres. Wani said Sehrai, who hails from north Kashmir’s Tikipora village of Lolab Valley, is unlikely to take any hard stance and will try to pursue the path of dialogue.

“When there is a transition, there is bound to have some readjustments,” Wani said.

“Over a period of time, Geelani developed an image of a hardliner because of which he was in constant lock-up and immobility compared to other separatist leaders like Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq,” the political analyst added.

Wani is of the view that Geelani is going to be there as long as he is alive.

“Geelani will be there like a working president,” he said.

Whether this change of guard would have any effect on the stand of Hurriyat Conference (G) and the Joint Resistance Leadership, which have been boycotting talks with the Centre, Wani said the Kashmir’s interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma has not even been “able to cut much ice” with the mainstream parties, let alone separatists.

The decision of making Sehrai the interim chairman was taken in an executive committee’s meeting of the organisation and an election would be held for the same later this year.

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