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FROM JAMMU & KASHMIR
Rise of the Radical
The new wave in the Separatists politics is headed by Masrat Alam Bhat
By S. Rasheed
Srinagar: The present spell of unrest has given a new twist to the two-decade-old Separatist movement in the Valley as the better known secessionist leaders like chairmen of the rival factions of Hurriyat Conference — Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq — and pro-independence JKLF leader Mohammad Yasin Malik are finding it hard to stay relevant on the political scene.
The man to take the Separatists politics by storm has been Masrat Alam Bhat — an old Separatist activist but little known till the Amarnath Land row agitation in the summer of 2008, when he was appointed as the spokesman of the Coordination Committee formed by the rival factions of Hurriyat Conference. Bhat, who started active participation in Separatist politics at the age of 16, has spent more than 11 years in the past two decades behind bars espousing the Separatist cause but it has been only this year that he emerged as a force to reckon with, becoming almost a cult figure.

Bhat, who heads the Muslim League, has become the face of the ongoing unrest, pushing behind even his own mentor, Geelani, on the popularity charts. The hard-line leader, who is seen as the brain behind the 2003 split in the Hurriyat Conference, was the first chairman of the rival faction floated by Geelani before the latter took over the reins.

Bhat, even up to point of engineering the split, was an unknown entity among the masses but has since come a long way devising the idea of running a structured protest calendar in the Valley. He prepared and announced the first weekly agitation calendar in June this year. He has since gone underground as police and other security agencies are on his trail. The change in his fortune did not take place overnight. He heavily invested whatever time he spent out of jails in preparing a band of die-hard followers, especially in the old Srinagar city, who ensure that his writ is accepted by the people.
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