Jammu and Kashmir Muslim League chief Masarat Alam’s arrest may have jeopardised chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s attempt to reach out to separatists but it has strongly positioned the 43-year-old as a natural successor to the Hurriyat chief, Syed Ali Geelani.
Geelani heads the hard-line faction of the Hurriyat, a pack of six parties that has gained in strength over the recent past. Alam — who has been behind bars for around 15 years in the last 25 years for an “unflinching commitment to the separatist cause” — seems to be the perfect person to head it after the 84-year-old Geelani.
An architect of the 2010 protests that rocked the Valley for months and cost over 100 lives, Alam introduced slogans and graffiti to separatist politics in a bid to popularise his ideology and take it to the youth.
But Alam’s latest move — a welcome rally for Geelani on Wednesday that saw pro-Pakistan slogans and Pakistan flags — has the potential to derail Sayeed’s moves to engage separatists.
The CM had staked his fragile alliance with the BJP when his government decided to release Alam, though the trigger had come from a legal procedure. After 40 days, his efforts seem to have come up short. Repeated moves by Hurriyat leaders and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik to meet Pakistan officials and hold provocative street protests have fast shrunk manoeuvring space for Sayeed.
Alam was first arrested in 1990 for being a sympathiser of the armed struggle that had broken out a year ago and remained behind bars until 1996. He leapt into the political limelight in 2008, when the Valley erupted in protests against a government decision to transfer 99 acres of forestland to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board to facilitate Hindu pilgrims.