Shabir Shah quits as secy of Geelani's Hurriyat. But does he have anywhere to go?
Veteran Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah has decided to resign as the general secretary of the hardline Hurriyat faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
The development has come as the first sign of the growing discontent within the faction's ranks, with implications for the other major separatist factions, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik.
In his resignation letter, Shah has expressed dissatisfaction over the functioning of the Hurriyat, and also regretted his inability to fulfill his responsibility as the general secretary due to his “frequent incarceration”.
Although Shah has stopped short of exiting the faction he joined in 2015, the resignation is believed to be the first step in that direction, if his concerns are not taken seriously by Geelani. Shah is reportedly sore about being ignored in the decision-making process.
In recent past, questions have also been raised about the appointment of Geelani's grandson Anees–ul-Islam as a research officer in the state's tourism department during the turmoil last year. Despite the issue being highlighted in a section of media, the Hurriyat has chosen to stay mum.
However, Shah's resignation, say sources in the separatist camp, may have little to do with the organisational matters in Geelani's Hurriyat.
“It is about a larger discontent, not necessarily limited to the Geelani faction alone,” said one Hurriyat leader. “It is chiefly to do with the way the power over decision-making within the separatist camp has passed into the hands of a few leaders, relegating others to the background.”
Shah is one of these leaders with a separatist pedigree that dates back to the early 1980s, when there was no armed Azadi movement in the state. At the time, Mirwaiz and Malik were kids, and Geelani a legislator of the Jamaat-i-Islami in the state Assembly.
But compared to Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik, who in the recent past, have emerged as the triumvirate of the Valley's separatist politics, and together, have chalked out the Hurriyat's response to the evolving situation, Shah has lost say even in his Hurriyat faction. According to his reported complaint to Geelani, he is not taken on board in the faction's decision-making.
Not a unique situation
The situation isn't any different in the Mirwaiz camp. Major leaders of the faction like Prof Abdul Gani Bhat and Bilal Gani Lone have more or less retreated into the shadows since Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik joined hands during the unrest last year. The trio presided over the six-month long uninterrupted shutdown through a weekly issued protest roster, a strategy that was later slammed by Bhat.
Speaking at the release of the first volume of his autobiography 'Beyond Me', Bhat took oblique yet blunt digs at the strategy of his separatist colleagues spearheading the unrest.
“Our leader is like a blind rider on a lame horse,” he said, in what was seen as a reference to Geelani. “Our strategy is like jumping into a river. But before doing so, we don't even pause to think if we can swim.”
Both Bhat and Lone have not been involved in deciding the Hurriyat strategy, watching more or less from the sidelines as Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik have taken centrestage.
What are Shah's options?
Shah has similarly been reduced to a spectator in the new Hurriyat state of affairs. He was not even present at the trio's recent meeting at Geelani's residence, where they announced the boycott of the Lok Sabha by-elections in the Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies.
Interestingly, Shah, along with another senior leader Nayeem Khan, had left Mirwaiz's Hurriyat in 2014, in protest against their “deliberate marginalisation” by the coterie around Mirwaiz. Ironically, at the time, this coterie comprised of Bhat and Lone.
For a brief period, Shah and Khan floated their own Hurriyat faction, which they christened as 'Real Hurriyat'. Soon, they merged it into Geelani’s faction. But as Shah's resignation from his post reveals, it seems to be the end of the road for him with Geelani. That is unless the latter takes his concerns seriously, and gives him more visibility and authority in the running of the faction.
At the same time, Shah has fewer options outside Geelani's Hurriyat. He has already left Mirwaiz's faction. He can't join Malik's Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front as there is little ideological alignment between the two. Shah is not a strict pro-independence leader like Malik.
He could yet again set up another separatist faction, or choose to content himself in being a leader of his outfit, the Democratic Freedom Party. But that would only further detract from whatever is left of his standing in the separatist leadership ranks.
His only hope is if his dissent finds some resonance among the seniors in other factions, and together, they can seek parity with the now reigning triumvirate.