Senior Kashmiri separatist leader Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai was arrested in Srinagar Sunday morning.
Mr Sehrai, 76, was tipped to be the new leader of the Hurriyat Conference, the biggest separatist amalgam in Kashmir, after lifetime chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani resigned last month.
Officials say Mr Sehrai has been booked under the stringent PSA (Public Safety Act) and will likely be lodged in Jammu Jail. The police have said that some members of the banned group Jama’at Islami were also arrested as part of a fresh crackdown on separatists in the Kashmir Valley.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s resignation has exposed Hurriyats’s ugly underbelly and deep fissures in the separatist camp. His resignation letter alleged corruption in separatist ranks and accused Hurriyat constituents of “conspiracy and resorting to lies against him“.
Mr Geelani also accused leaders – without naming Mr Sehrai – of refusing to guide the movement in the aftermath of the government’s contentious decision on Article 370.
In the days and weeks following the withdrawal of special privileges for Jammu and Kashmir, a large number of separatists and political leaders were jailed. However, most of the senior separatist leadership, including Mr Geelani, Mr Sehrai and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were not arrested.
Almost the entire mainstream leadership, including three former chief ministers – Omar Abdullah and his father, Farooq Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti – were arrested and charged under the PSA.
Following Mr Geelani’s resignation, there were attempts to revive the separatist camp and reclaim its space. Today’s arrests are aimed at circumventing any such attempt.