An associate of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, 74, has taken over as the new Chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH), the separatist organisation formed by Geelani after he parted ways with Jamat-e-Islami more than a decade ago. Geelani continues to be the chairman of separatist conglomerate Hurriyat Conference — Tehreek-e-Hurriyat is one of its constituents.
“The Majlis-e-Shoora (executive council) unanimously appointed Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai sahib as interim chairman till the party elections to be held later in the year,” Tehreek-e-Hurriyat said in a release.
The release said Geelani “wilfully” stepped down as chairman of the organisation.
“Merely holding a position without practical contribution is injustice not only with the post, but the conscience as well. So today, I wilfully step down from the chairmanship and advise the shoora (council) to arrange an alternative at the earliest,” the release quoted Geelani as saying.
The Tehreek-e-Hurriyat was formed in 2004 when Geelani parted ways with Jamat-e-Islami after a rift. Sehrai, like Geelani, originally belonged to the Jamat and was instrumental in the formation of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, said insiders.
Sehrai, who has served as the general secretary of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, was always tipped to be first choice to succeed Geelani, said sources. In fact, a few years ago, Geelani had decided to nominate him as his successor in Hurriyat, but the announcement was cancelled at the last moment after some members of the Hurriyat questioned how Geelani can nominate someone when the separatist conglomerate has a process to elect its chairman.
Born in 1944 in Tikkipora village of Lolab in Kupwara, Sehrai has been a close associate of Geelani for almost 57 years now. He holds a BA (Hons) in Urdu from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). He came in touch with Geelani in early 1960s when the latter was emerging as a leader of the Jamat.
In 1965, when he was 21, Sehrai was arrested for the first time for “anti-government” activities. He spent six months in jail.
While many see Geelani as a hardliner, insiders in Tehreek-e-Hurriyat say Sehrai is more of a hardliner than Geelani.