The poster boy of the 2010 agitation in Kashmir, Masarat Alam Bhat, who is in jail for allegedly being involved in the funding of terror organisations, was on Tuesday named as chairman of the hardline Hurriyat Conference following the death of Syed Ali Shah Geelani last week.
In a statement issued to media on Tuesday, the hardline faction of the Hurriyat claimed that the people of Jammu and Kashmir look up to the amalgam’s leadership with great expectations.
It said that Shabir Ahmad Shah and Ghulam Ahmad Gulzar have been elected as vice-chairmen.
The appointments are temporary till elections are held according to the Hurriyat constitution, the faction said.
Bhat, who was charge-sheeted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in October 2019, is at present lodged in the Tihar Jail.
The NIA had said that immediately after his arrest, “Muslim League chairman Masarat Alam Bhat revealed in the investigation that Pakistan-based agents routed funds through Hawala operators and these were transferred to separatists, including Syed Ali Geelani”.
“Bhat said that there were rifts in the Hurriyat over the funds”, the agency had said.
Geelani was an avowed Pakistani supporter and he had spearheaded the separatist movement in Jammu and Kashmir for over three decades.
Though he was elected as the lifetime chairman of the amalgam, he stepped down and dissociated from it last year after developing rift with the Pakistani chapter over appointments in the Hurriyat.
The NIA had registered a case against members of the Jammat-ud-Dawa, Duktaran-e-Millat, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Hizbul Mujahideen and other separatist groups and leaders in Jammu and Kashmir for allegedly raising, receiving and collecting funds to fuel separatist and terrorist activities, conspiracy to cause disruption in the Valley and waging war against India.
Bhat had become a prominent face of the 2010 agitation in the Valley for issuing protest calendars during the turmoil that was sparked off after the death of a youth due to tear gas shells during an demonstration.
He was arrested on the outskirts of Srinagar city after a four-month search. There was an announcement of Rs 10 lakh award for information about him.
The 50-year-old science graduate was widely seen as the successor to Geelani.
Bhat was also instrumental in linking banned naxal groups with Kashmiri separatists. An indicator to this link came during 2010 when Bhat, the mastermind behind stone-pelting incidents that left 112 people dead in several months of the agitation in 2010, circulated a pamphlet about the plan for strikes by separatists.
Ironically, the pamphlet was prepared by an overground naxal worker and at several places, even the language was the same, officials said.
A detailed examination by the Questioner of Examined Document (QED) of the paper showed that the font used in the pamphlet circulated by Naxal leader Kishenji and by Bhat were identical and even the printers were the same, they said.
His release in 2015 had led to friction between the PDP and BJP alliance government immediately after it was formed prompting the former to put him behind bars within a day after he was set free.