Earlier this month, Indian-administered Kashmir misplaced its strongest voice demanding freedom from New Delhi’s rule: Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Geelani died on September 1 after a protracted sickness at his residence in the principle metropolis of Srinagar, the place he had been underneath home arrest for years. He was 92.
For many years, Geelani headed the Kashmiri separatist group, All Events Hurriyat Convention (APHC), which campaigns for both the area’s merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan or the creation of an impartial nation out of the Himalayan territory.
Fearing a mass funeral procession over the enduring chief’s demise, Indian authorities “snatched his physique” shortly after his loss of life and hurriedly buried it in at evening – with out even the presence of his members of the family.
New Delhi additionally imposed a safety lockdown and minimize off web and phone companies in anticipation of demonstrations and protests within the disputed area over Geelani’s loss of life.
His grave continues to be ring-fenced by a contingent of Indian police and paramilitary troops, with a number of automobiles completely stationed exterior the graveyard in Srinagar.
Three weeks after Geelani’s loss of life, there are questions in Indian-administered Kashmir over the way forward for its separatist motion in opposition to a backdrop of a sequence of repressive steps taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist authorities, particularly since 2019.
In August that yr, India unilaterally scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian structure, which had granted the nation’s solely Muslim-majority area – additionally claimed by neighbouring Pakistan – a level of autonomy, turning it right into a federally ruled territory.
New Delhi’s most far-reaching transfer in seven many years of Kashmir wrestle was adopted by a months-long safety lockdown imposed within the valley and the arrests of tons of of Kashmiri politicians, rights activists, separatists, legal professionals and others.
Since then, the Indian authorities has imposed new legal guidelines governing property and land rights, which the Kashmiris worry goal to vary the demographics of the area.
Geelani, many Kashmiris imagine, was the final highly effective separatist chief within the area, who brazenly challenged Indian rule and loved overwhelming native help.
He stop the APHC final yr however the organisation didn’t appoint his successor till his loss of life. The brand new APHC head is 50-year-old Masarat Alam Bhat, who has spent 17 years of his life in jail.
Since Bhat stays in jail, many political commentators in Indian-administered Kashmir assume his appointment as the brand new APHC chief will hardly have a major impact on the bottom.
Who’s Masarat Alam Bhat?
Bhat, a Geelani loyalist, is a staunch anti-India chief who believes Kashmiris needs to be given the appropriate to self-determination. He was anticipated to succeed Geelani after Ashraf Sehrai, the 77-year-old second in command, died in jail in Might this yr.
Sehrai was in detention underneath the draconian Public Security Act (PSA), a legislation that enables an individual to stay imprisoned for as much as a yr with out trial.
Bhat, a science graduate, had a quick stint with armed riot in opposition to India in his teenage years earlier than he was arrested and launched two years later in 1993. After strolling free, he co-founded the Muslim League, a pro-freedom group that was part of the APHC.
Bhat is taken into account the brainchild behind the division of the umbrella organisation into two factions – hardliners and moderates – in 2003. After the break up, Bhat joined the hardline faction led by Geelani.
The hardliners advocated for the decision of the Kashmir dispute underneath a United Nations Safety Council decision and refused to have interaction with New Delhi.
In April 1948, the UNSC had handed a decision, asking the governments of India and Pakistan to “create correct situations for a free and neutral plebiscite to resolve whether or not the State of Jammu and Kashmir is to accede to India or Pakistan”.
The Hurriyat moderates, however, used to participate in dialogue with India and Pakistan and had been open to unconditional talks with the Indian authorities.
Whereas Bhat has been part of the separatist politics for over twenty years, he gained widespread reputation in 2010 when he led 1000’s of youths in Srinagar who protested in opposition to the killing of Tufail Mattoo, a young person, by the Indian safety forces.
The agitation continued for months and noticed the killing of greater than 100 civilians by Indian forces. As India’s crackdown intensified, Bhat went underground from the place he secretly issued protest calendars till he was arrested in October 2010.
The rebellion turned him right into a charismatic chief, primarily among the many youth in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Bhat has been imprisoned since 2015 after he was booked underneath the PSA, laws Amnesty Worldwide has described as a “lawless legislation”. Continuously, the PSA in opposition to him could be revoked and he could be instantly booked in one other case underneath the identical legislation.
He’s at the moment jailed underneath a case associated to alleged “terror funding”, like many different separatist leaders from the area.
‘Resistance didn’t die’
For the final two years, New Delhi has been profitable in sustaining a good grip on the portion of Kashmir it governs. A crackdown by the Nationwide Investigation Company (NIA) on separatist teams resulted in lots of their leaders being thrown into jails over alleged “cash laundering” and different instances.
In the meantime, teams such because the socio-religious Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Entrance (JKLF) have been banned for his or her “secessionist” ideologies.
The beleaguered separatist teams confronted one other setback with the loss of life of Geelani, who was known as “Bab” (Father in Kashmiri) by his supporters.
Sheikh Showkat Hussain, political analyst and and tutorial primarily based within the area, says Kashmir’s historical past has witnessed a number of moments whereby a gaggle’s survival was seen by the lens of a well-liked chief.
However, he says, fashionable sentiments for the appropriate to self-determination among the many area’s residents have at all times overshadowed their leaders.
“Sheikh Abdullah deserted separatism and joined the state as chief minister in 1975 when Pakistan had misplaced its jap wing however resistance didn’t die. Slightly, Sheikh’s abdication made separatism extra profound and extra cell,” Hussain advised Al Jazeera.
In 1975, Kashmiri nationalist Sheikh Abdullah signed an accord with the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, underneath which he gave up the demand for independence and took over the reins of the state.
“I don’t assume the loss of life of a pacesetter or any particular person or altering sides by a person will impression the resistance in an enormous manner,” Hussain stated.
Husain believes Bhat’s appointment as Geelani’s successor was “an apparent and anticipated transfer”.
“The state of affairs is such that in the event that they appoint somebody who’s exterior (a jail), he could be arrested. There have been two choices for the brand new incumbent if he was exterior: both go underground or get arrested,” he stated.
“They’ll’t afford to go underground as a result of Hurriyat professes to be an above-ground organisation and never concerned in underground actions.”
Authorities officers within the area say the appointment of a jailed chief to go the Hurriyat Convention doesn’t make any distinction on the bottom.
“Within the 2010 agitation, Bhat was a mass chief. Due to his hawkish stand on sure points, he was near Pakistani circles or those that subscribed to that ideology,” an official, who refused to be named, advised Al Jazeera, calling Bhat “a really trustworthy and upright man”.
“However with time the rigidity in his stance on Kashmir has slowly diminished. We will’t name him average however the inflexible mindset that he had to start with has slowly modified a little bit bit,” he added.
The official stated within the present political situation in Indian-administered Kashmir, Bhat’s appointment “means nothing” and “hardly counts”.
“He’s in jail and he can’t do something. And on the bottom, the Hurriyat is dismantled.”
Ajai Sahni, government director of New Delhi-based Institute for Battle Administration, advised Al Jazeera the brand new APHC management can not meet the “towering affect” of Geelani.
“I don’t assume separatists would be capable to make any important impression on the bottom because of components such because the lack of Geelani, lack of fashionable help, and the constraints underneath which all political actions are working,” he stated.
Sahni, nevertheless, added that it could be untimely to start out making predictions about Hurriyat’s future.
“Given the political state of affairs, the centre’s insurance policies and the diploma with which political actions stay constrained, all these components would affect what the Hurriyat will be capable to do,” he stated.
“Additionally, Bhat and lots of Hurriyat leaders at the moment are concerned in legal instances which can mechanically restrict their capacities for an open political exercise.”
However Siddiq Wahid, a former vice-chancellor of the Islamic College of Science and Know-how and political commentator from the disputed area, thinks Hurriyat’s “demise has been predicted many occasions earlier than however such predictions mirror extra a want on the a part of the predictors and fewer the state of affairs on the bottom”.