Separatist leader and chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Muslim League Masarat Alam Bhat is once again making headlines after multiple sources reported that he has been appointed as the chairman of the hardline Hurriyat Conference.
This comes days after the death of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who passed away on 1 September due to age-related ailments.
Alam, the architect of civilian unrest in the Valley in 2010 which left more than a hundred people dead, has spent about half his life in jail in “preventive detention”. Alam holds the unenviable record of having been detained under the harsh Public Safety Act (PSA) 36 times. To keep him in jail, successive state governments slapped PSA on him from time to time.
A militant-turned-political leader, Alam’s political career as a separatist started in 1996. He was a top commander of the pro-Pakistan militant outfit Hezbollah, and after his arrest and release, joined the separatist Muslim League, as per Indian Express. After joining the Muslim League, he rapidly became popular and rose through the ranks to become the party chief.
In 2003, when the Hurriyat Conference split into moderates and hardliners, Alam joined the Geelani-led faction. He was briefly appointed general secretary of the Hurriyat Conference when several of its leaders were arrested. He is known as a close confidante of the late Geelani.
The Hurriyat Conference came into existence in 1993 with 26 groups, including some pro-Pakistan and banned outfits such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and the Dukhtaran-e-Millat. It also included the People’s Conference and the Awami Action Committee headed by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq.
The separatist conglomerate broke into two factions in 2005 with the moderate group being led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the hard-line headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. So far, the Centre has banned the Jamaat-e-Islami and the JKLF under the UAPA. The ban was imposed in 2019.
A former student leader, Bhat, resident of Zaindar Moholla in Srinagar, has served several years in jail at different intervals since the onset of militancy in 1990.
Both, in 2008 and 2010, the Kashmiris pelted stones, waved Pakistani flags and shouted pro-militant slogans. Both those times, significantly, armed insurgents were invisible in the background ” one of whom was identified as Masarat Alam Bhat “who emerged as a key driver of the unrest in 2010. It subsided with his arrest and multiple detentions over the years.
Alam went to Biscoe, the Valley’s leading missionary school, and went on to become a graduate. Alam’s former classmates told The Week that he was an early rebel. “In his first successful agitation, he led a group of boys who demanded permission for Friday prayers,” one of his classmates told the magazine. “The school authorities had to budge.”
In a 2010 interview with journalist Dilnaz Boga, he said infamously been quoted as saying that he has been “a stone thrower since my childhood because stones were the only source of resistance before 1990”. He said Gujjars in Rajasthan had thrown stones to push their demands for reservation in jobs.
When Alam became the “most wanted” separatist in 2010, the coalition of the National Conference and Congress was in power. He got bail when the PDP-BJP government was in power. For Alam, there is no difference in the two alliances’ agendas. “They want to defeat the nation of Kashmir,” he told Scroll.in.
Ashiq Bukhari, the senior superintendent of police who led the operation that resulted in Masarat’s arrest post the 2010 stone-pelting incident, said it took the police months of hard work to track him down. Now retired, he said his team got Rs 10 lakh the police had put on Masarat’s head. “Omar (Abdullah) gave us an extra Rs 15 lakh from his own pocket,” he told The Week. Bukhari was Srinagar police chief in 2010.
Alam’s wife, Zahida, has been living with her parents since Alam’s arrests. Her elder brother, Muhammed Salim, was part of the Kashmir militancy and was killed by security forces in 1996. Zahida told HuffPost India “I never had to think twice before consenting to this marriage. I have always been proud of him. We all are.”
His separatist politics have been very clearly stated from the beginning, he has never minced his words. In an interview with Indian Express he had said that “Kashmir is under occupation, and there will be no debate or discussion on that.”