July 2000 News

Prof. Butt new Hurriyat chief

20 July 2000
The Asian Age
Yusuf Jameel

Srinagar: Professor Abdul Gani Butt, the abstemious Kashmiri secessionist leader, is the new chairman of the Hurriyat Conference. He replaces Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the ironman from the rightwing Jamaat-e-Islami, and has been elected to the highest post in the amalgam for two years. Prof. Butt, however, does not agree with the notion that the leadership of the Hurriyat Conference has slipped into modest hands with his election. ''I don''t believe in classification of modernism or extremism,'' he told The Asian Age immediately after his election. He added, ''In a forum like ours only collective decisions prevail. Here decisions are taken either by consensus or majority vote, and modernisation or extremism are irrelevant.'' Prof. Butt, 62, defeated the other lone contestant for the post, Mr Abdul Gani Lone, by a majority of a single vote. Mr Lone bagged two out of the five votes cast during the much-publicised election here on Thursday. Announcing the result, outgoing chairman Syed Geelani said of seven executive members of the amalgam, the statutory body entitled to elect a chairman, only five participated in the exercise. Prof. Butt later elaborated that both the contestants had, on moral grounds and to set a good precedent, opted not to use their right to vote, which is otherwise given to each executive member under the Hurriyat constitution. Asked about his priorities as the new chairman, Prof. Butt said, ''I''ll have to get deeper into the working of the Hurriyat Conference and see if improvement is required.'' He added, ''We''ll have to go together because we belong to a collective political forum.'' Prof. Butt said no individual, howsoever high, could take any decision at his own level. Asked whether he was referring to reports suggesting that some amalgam leaders favoured an open dialogue with the Centre in order to break the stalemate on Jammu and Kashmir, he said, ''I am referring to myself.'' Incidentally, Prof. Butt himself has been talking about reconciliation and ''peace with honour,'' implying that the Kashmiri leadership may well enter into a dialogue with the Centre. Prof. Butt is the third chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, the first being Kashmir''s chief priest, Maulvi Omar Farooq, who held the post for two terms given the ''extraordinary situation'' in which the amalgam had been caught then. Prof. Butt''s Muslim Conference is among the 21 constituents of the Hurriyat Conference and one of the seven executive members of the alliance. He studied law and Persian at Aligarh Muslim University and, before joining active politics, taught linguistics and Persian in a government-run degree college but was among nine officials sacked by then governor Jagmohan in 1986 for alleged involvement in anti-Indian political activities. In less than a year, he burgeoned as a key player in Kashmir''s rebel politics and was the brain behind the formation of the Muslim United Front, an alliance of various political parties that contested the 1987 Assembly elections against the ruling National Conference-Congress combine. But the alleged rigging and other manipulations in these polls to benefit the ruling party pushed those who had challenged it at the hustings to the wall. Disgusted, many MUF candidates, including current Hezb-ul-Mujahideen chief commander Mohammed Yusuf Shah, alias Syed Salahuddin, who had taken a pledge on the Indian Constitution, turned to the gun. People like Prof. Butt remained at their back.


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