In a first, senior former separatist leader from moderate Hurriyat, headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, on Sunday joined the Congress here.
Former separatist leader Muhammad Yaqoob Vakil was among 13 politicians who announced their affiliation with the party at a hotel here.
Senior Congress leaders, including Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) head Saifudddin Soz, state tourism minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir and treasurer and vice-president Krishan Kumar Amla, welcomed the new entrants to the party fold as it celebrated its first-ever separatist entrant.
While many separatists have earlier joined regional mainstream parties, including the national Conference (NC) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Vakil is the first separatist to join a national party.
The development has come ahead of elections to the parliament and state assembly, scheduled to be held this year, with separatists reiterating their campaign to boycott them.
Vakil is among the founder members of Mirwaiz's Awami Action Committee and has worked as its general secretary till 2007. He has also worked as secretary to the senior Mirwaiz, head priest Moulvi Muhammaf Farooq, who was assassinated by unknown gunmen in the 1990s.
"These prominent leaders were attracted to the party because of the Congress's service to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. They were particularly attracted by the selfless service rendered to the people by Soz," a Congress spokesman said in Srinagar.
The moderate Hurriyat has downplayed the development by stating, "His joining the Congress is insignificant for the Hurriyat and the Mirwaiz's party. He has left the struggle in 2007. No individual is important in our struggle, but the political goal is, which is the resolution of the Kashmir issue as per aspirations of people," said moderate Hurriyat spokesman Shahid-ul-Islam.
Vakil, who joined the PDP for a brief period in 2008, again joined the separatist ranks the same year, following the street agitation sparked by the Amarnath land row. Vakil was the moderate separatists' Srinagar face, as he would work with local shopkeepers in the old part of the city.