By Aasif Sultan
Srinagar: Veteran pro-freedom leader Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai was on Monday elected as the chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, a powerful constituent of Syed Ali Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference faction.
“The TehreeK-e-Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Geelani today held a meeting at its office in Srinagar and elected senior member Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai as the party chairman”, a Hurriyat spokesperson said, without giving any reason for the development.
Sehrai, a Jamaat-e-Islami ideologue, has been a closest aide and friend of Geelani for around 50 years.
The development, it’s believed, comes in wake of an unprecedented crackdown on the azadi camp. India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) has arrested several senior pro-freedom leaders in the past one year. They are currently detained in Tihar Jail in New Delhi.
Sehrai’s appointment also comes two days after Geelani said he rejected an offer of talks by the Modi government in New Delhi when an official of India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) had visited him at his residence here.
Apart from senior Hurriyat leaders Shabir Shah, Nayeem Khan, Shahid-ul-Islam, Farooq Dar alias Bitta Karate, Meraj-ud-Din Kalwal, Peer Saifullah and Ayaz Akbar, Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Ahmad Shah is presently under NIA detention while his sons Naeem Geelani and Naseem Geelani were summoned by the agency many times in the past.
Interestingly, in November 2015, Geelani was elected as lifetime chairman of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat which came into existence in September 2003 after the first major split in the pro-freedom camp.
Though insiders say that the handing over of the charge was due to the old age of Geelani (he’s 89), observers say that there were other factors that induced the change.
Some months ago, Sehrai wrote a five-page letter to Geelani expressing his displeasure about some developments within the faction. Before that, Sehrai had given a miss to executive council meetings of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and the Hurriyat as well. The contents of the letter weren’t made public, though.
In 2016, Sehrai, a resident of Kupwara, had rejected the membership of Geelani’s son Naeem, who had returned from Pakistan after many years, while saying that being a “pious Muslim and a pro-freedom activist” are the pre-requisites to be a part of the faction.