Masarat Alam: New separatist face of the Valley

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INDIA-KASHMIR-ELECTION-ALAMMasarat Alam’s release from the prison last month triggered a political storm in the country, threatening almost the collapse of the fledgling coalition between PDP and BJP. And his re-arrest now following the waving of Pakistani flag at a rally has become a big embarrassment for PDP. But little noticed in this incident is the fact that in Masarat Alam, Kashmir has got a brand new Hurriyat face whose new-found prominence has temporarily obscured the familiar gaggle of the top Hurriyat leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, his boss in Hurriyat (G).

For Kashmir, this is a development of profound political significance. Not because this is the first time in the past 25 years that a lesser known separatist activist has climbed through the ranks to become one of the Valley’s secessionist principals but because of the kind of political ideology he brings to the table. Alam’s party Muslim League sees itself as an eponymous continuation to the pre-partition Muslim political organization led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah which created Pakistan. Alam thus subscribes to the two nation theory and like Geelani sees Kashmir as a natural part of Pakistan – a goal that is sought to be realized by the implementation of the United Nations Resolutions on Kashmir.

“UN Resolutions are the bedrock of Kashmir dispute. And it is India which has taken this dispute to the global body,”  Alam told Tehelka in an interview at his residence in downtown Srinagar. “What we are humbly asking is for New Delhi to honour its own commitment to us”.

It was this politics that in 2003 persuaded Alam to throw in his lot with Geelani’s faction following Hurriyat split over the then separatist leader Sajad Lone’s decision to field proxy candidates in 2002 Assembly election. Ever since Alam has been the vocal champion of the hardline separatism in Valley and the spearhead of many a mass ferment beginning with 2006 protest against the Srinagar sex abuse scandal involving senior politicians, bureaucrats and the police men.

Alam was also a prominent part of the 2008 Amarnath land row agitation. But he shot to fame through the five month long 2010 unrest which he is believed to have organized by creating  well-knit networks of the stone-throwing youth and issuing weeklong protest calendars. However, Alam was arrested midway through the strife, a development which did little to quell the protests which by then had peaked and spread through the Valley.

Will Alam lead such protests again? His answer is in the affirmative and Wednesday’s rally at Hyderpora addressed by him alongside Geelani was enough of a proof. Alam led an enthusiastic crowd of supporters to a ground near Geelani’s residence amid pro-Pakistan slogans and the waving green flags. “We are seeing attempts by New Delhi to change the demography of Kashmir. If this happens we will be forced to take to the streets again,” says Alam, his graying long beard belying his young age of 42.

However, in the short term the real challenge of Alam’s rise may not be to New Delhi but to the separatists themselves. Alam has always been severely critical of the soft stance of the Hurriyat faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Through the 2010 unrest, the J&K Police recorded his call to PoK based Hizbul Mujahideen supremo  Syed Salahuddin in which he complained to him against the alleged compromised politics of the veteran Hurriyat dove Prof Abdul Gani Bhat.  Alam sought Salahuddin’s help to force Prof Bhat to mend his ways.

But the same Alam went against Geelani when through the 2008 protest he strained the separatist unity by declaring himself as the absolute leader of the separatist movement at a joint rally of the separatist factions.  On Alam’s insistence, Geelani later apologised for his “error”.

Alam’s politics, however, is not about an unrelieved hardline approach to separatist politics. He inflects it with a dash of rationalism too. For instance, he is strictly against any truck of Kashmiri separatist struggle with the jihadist or Islamist movements in other parts of the world, including Pakistan. “My idea of a Kashmir struggle is confined within the frontiers of Jammu and Kashmir. Whatever goes on outside J&K is none of our concern,” says Alam adding that he had once declined an offer from some Muslim leaders from the rest of the country to raise the issues of Muslims of India. “Ours is a political struggle, not religious. Kashmir problem is essentially an issue of the people of the state”.

But despite his enhanced political profile which has overnight made him the top hardline separatist voice of Kashmir, Alam looks set for a bitter contest to become Geelani’s successor. Though Geelani made him a general secretary of Hurriyat (G) through 2010 unrest, Alam’s appointment as the Hurriyat faction’s future chief faces an internal resistance from many former.Jamaat-i-Islami leaders who make its ranks.

Some of these leaders close to Geelani loathe to see him as their future leader. It is not only a clash of personalities but basically a conflict between ideological cultures of Jamaat-i-Islami and Muslim League.  Whereas Jamaat, from where the Geelani draws his extensive support-base has once been a vaunted electoral entity in Valley, Muslim League has essentially been a separatist outfit with no cadre base, drawing its inspiration from the Pakistani founder Jinnah’s party. In fact, League in Valley became a recognizable entity only over the past two decades.

It will be, however, difficult to stop Alam who has now stepped out into the limelight with a political constituency of his own. With the unprecedented media spotlight on his release and now re-arrest, Alam has also become a permanent separatist reference point in the state and a media story. This has made him the only other widely known leader in Hurriyat (G) beside Geelani, which only further cements his cause of being the legitimate successor to his hawkish mentor.

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