The ‘militant moment’ in the change of guard

Barely a week after Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai became new Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chief, his son fled home to join the militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen. The son’s insurgent foray with the father’s advent as Syed Ali Geelani’s successor have created a political buzz around the new captain’s conduct.

With parallels still being drawn with the ailing predecessor following the change of guard in Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) camp lately, the flabbergasted rank and file — flocking Hyderpora at the moment — wonder, ‘Who’s writing the Ashraf Sehrai script?’

Much of this comes with a collective sense of admiration for Sehrai, who’s ‘sagaciously’ playing it cool, even after his son became an insurgent, almost in historic huff, a few days after his ‘coronation’.

Even J&K’s top cop SP Vaid’s call—“bring him home”—drew a short response from Sehrai, ‘My son’s decision is my son’s decision.’

The new TeH chief’s youngest son Junaid, left home last Friday to pray. He went missing, before surfacing on social media barely 24 hours later, clutching an AK-47, in a typical showdown of how young boys announce their joining the rebel ranks on Kashmir’s insurgent landscape in the contemporary times.

“No bargain is a big bargain for the new Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chief,” says Mohammad Ashraf Laaya, a Hurriyat activist. “He is the man ready to take any challenge on his chin.”

Much of this awe comes from the long association between the two.

“I know Sehrai Sahab since my student days,” Laaya continues, “when I campaigned for him as a Jama’at-e-Islami candidate against Sheikh Abdullah from Ganderbal constituency. We were badly hounded by Abdullah’s men on the streets, then, but the fearless Sehrai would keep us motivated, even when one Jama’at campaigner Saad-u-din Tantray’s eye was taken out.”

Then, Laaya says, Sehrai would use the electoral platform to educate and inform the masses about the Kashmir conflict and the “betrayal done to them”.

35 years down the line, Sehrai is in the middle of another campaign, amid an escalated state backlash on the resistance camp.

Seen as revivalist, Sehrai’s appointment came in the backdrop of the protracted presence of armed vehicles outside Geelani’s house, denied meetings and police summons to resistance activists. His sheer ability to fill the gap between the leadership and the people is likely to help Sehrai to restore TeH’s organizational structure, badly battered in the post-2016 offensive.

“The strategy of distancing the leader from the people and party members is aimed at wiping out the sentiment of Azadi from the minds of the people of Kashmir,” says Imtyaz Hyder, a well-known Hurriyat activist from Budgam.

Hyder, better known as Syed Ali Geelani’s ‘man Friday’, says all district presidents of TeH, except for district Budgam, are jailed at the moment “in a bid to choke the Hurriyat activities”.

The change of the guard has happened as per the situation, says Ghulam Ahmad Gulzar, the spokesperson of the Hurriyat Conference (G).

“Geelani Sahab’s health conditions and his continuous house detention were raising concerns for some time now,” Gulzar says. “But now, the leadership shift will surely help in changing the ground situation and strengthen the resistance camp.”

Sehrai’s experience and fearless conduct, believes Laaya, will possibly help “plug the chaos and confusion created among people by some fringe elements”.

Connecting the course of events in Kashmir with the global scenario, Sehrai believes that the Indian State is applying the same model in Kashmir which the US has applied in the rest of the Islamic World.

“The youth of Kashmir should research and educate themselves about the Islamic concept of democracy, the context of the Kashmiri struggle and the justice done by extremist groups like ISIS to the Islamic World, before becoming tools of the Indian state-backed elements,” Sehrai says, amid the Shariyat versus Hurriyat debate, making many believe the ‘hard-hitter’ was promoted up in the order to hammer out some ‘game-changing’ knocks.

People at Hyderpora also make one believe that the man’s advent has essentially to do with the multi-front offensive on Kashmir’s resistance camp.

“A lot of maligning about Syed Ali Geelani—that he is making one of his sons as his successor, and that he’s not giving space to others—was going on,” says a Hurriyat activist. “Now, the shift is definitely going to settle the Indian agency-created confusion and illusion among the people.”

After TeH, the activist seems to suggest, Sehrai might succeed his “Rehbar” as Hurriyat (G) chief as well.

While only TeH elections in a few months will reveal that, the big challenge for Sehrai at the moment seems to shape up the response and reactions on many things in Kashmir, including the path taken by his son lately.


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