Syed Ali Shah Geelani, 91, has left the anti-India party coalition APHC that he headed for decades after a revolt against his leadership and the group's inability to counter India's annexation of Kashmir. We examine why:

Internal political rift and deteriorating health, coupled with India's unprecedented lockdown, may have contributed to the announcement of veteran leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani stepping down from an alliance of resistance groups in disputed Kashmir.

The 91-year-old popular leader, incarcerated at home for almost a decade, quit the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (or APHC) via an audio clip which was undated and a press statement on Monday. 

"I have decided to distance myself from the Hurriyat given the current situation of the amalgam," his statement said.

The audio and the statement appeared to be crafted four to five months earlier and released on his behalf on Monday.

The APHC, an umbrella association for over two dozen political and social groups seeking an end to Indian rule in the Himalayan region, had been ignoring the leader's directives, whose physical and mental health has given way in recent months, APHC insiders have told TRT World.

APHC has branches in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and India-administered Kashmir. Geelani acted as a lifetime head of APHC before breaking away from the amalgam. 

All the constituents of APHC had been informed, in a detailed letter, about the decision.

Pakistani APHC accused of stirring a revolt 

In that letter, Geelani accused some members of APHC in Pakistan-administered Kashmir of various allegations including "revolting against his leadership".

"For a long time in general and for the last two years in particular, a lot of complaints are coming in about this forum (APHC in Pakistan-administered Kashmir)," his letter read. 

Geelani accused APHC members in Pakistan-administered Kashmir of becoming part of the parliament as well as ministries through nepotism, and actively participating in the governmental structure there.

The Pakistan APHC's internal splits, "quarrels, financial irregularities, and countless such issues have been the subject of public debate," Geelani wrote.

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Autonomy abrogation 

After India's abrogation of Kashmir's semi-autonomy last year, the bed-ridden leader said he tried to reach out to the APHC members to rise to the occasion but received no response.

Last year on August 5, New Delhi rushed a decree through parliament, unilaterally revoking the constitutional status of disputed Kashmir under the temporary treaty of accession signed by its ruler in 1947.

That decision was accompanied by a harsh crackdown, with New Delhi deploying tens of thousands of troops, in addition to the already 500,000 troops present there, imposing a sweeping curfew, arresting thousands and cutting virtually all communications.

Geelani's backing of ex-Hizbul Mujahideen stirs trouble

"Ahead of India's move, Geelani sent his activists to meet several Hurriyat members with the task of formulating strategies against autonomy abrogation. None of them replied to him. After the autonomy loss too, Geelani wanted some of these members to meet and devise strategies. Again, nothing moved. Some 70 percent of our members were free, yet, we couldn't do anything," a party insider told TRT World

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The main rift, however, appears to have caused after some former members of the Hizbul Mujahideen group sought an increased role in APHC in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Geelani had apparently backed ex-fighters' bid. 

Pakistani Kashmir-based Hizbul Mujahideen is the largest of all groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir since the 1990s. The US designated it as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2017.

Some of its members have remained stranded in Pakistan-administered Kashmir after having crossed the de facto border with India in the early 90s.

"Some of them fought Indian troops, got injured at the border, and returned to base camps. They are too old to fight now and are seeking a political role in APHC in Muzaffarabad [capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir]," a Kashmir affairs expert based in the disputed region told TRT World on the condition of anonymity.

"Geelani supported this breed of new politicians over APHC's old figures and traditionalists."

Why now?

The timing of Geelani's resignation is being scrutinized since the nonagenarian has been bed-ridden for the last several months. A source close to the leader says Geelani also suffers from dementia.

"He is only breathing. He can't recognise his close relatives. He doesn't even know the world is battling coronavirus. The letter and audio seem to be months old," the source told TRT World.

Syed Abdullah Gilani, who will represent Geelani in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and abroad according to the letter, confirmed to TRT World that Geelani had ended association with the APHC, but refused to provide reasons behind the leader's decision.

However, he said Geelani's decision to step down "won't weaken resistance in Kashmir," adding, "fake letters attributed to ailing leader have been circulated since last year to create confusion by Geelani's detractors."

Defiance made Geelani popular 

Geelani has been a popular figure who led political protests against India's rule in the region for decades. 

Popular Indian magazine The Caravan once described Geelani as someone whose defiance made him relevant in Kashmir. 

Not only New Delhi, but Geelani is also known for snubbing then Pakistan military dictator Pervez Musharraf who offered a four-point framework for resolution of Kashmir, outside the ambit of UN-resolutions on the region.

After India's abrogation of Kashmir's autonomy, Geelani had demanded Pakistan respond to India's moves by dissolving Tashkent, Shimla and Lahore agreements.

Geelani, who holds sway among many Kashmiris, is known for his strong opposition to talks with New Delhi that do not include an UN-backed plebiscite in the disputed region, which both Pakistan and India rule in parts and claim in full since the 1947 partition.

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Post-Geelani Hurriyat

"Geelani was already known to be largely incapacitated due to age-related issues. Not to forget the years-long house arrest he was subjected to, which was meant to, again, incapacitate him. That he remained a leader, and almost wholly the face and body of the Hurriyat was testimony to his stature," Najeeb Mubarki, a senior Kashmiri journalist, told TRT World.

Mubarki said the move to delink now "is largely to protect his legacy, and prevent anyone from claiming direct succession, given the known issues within the Hurriyat."

"In that sense, the delinking isn't much of an issue. It is more a comment on lack of faith in the post-Geelani Hurriyat. Most Kashmiris feel that lack of faith and Geelani has in a final move, reflected it."

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies