Syed Ali Shah Geelani stepped down as the chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) on Monday handing over the reins of the political party to Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai. Geelani, 88, had served as the chairman of the party for 18 years.

The separatist leader will, however, remain the head of his faction of the Hurriyat Conference, resting all speculation about him stepping down from the separatist movement in Jammu and Kashmir.

A spokesperson from the TeH said a meeting was held in the party’s office in Srinagar where the election of Sehrai as party chairman was confirmed.

Sehrai has previously served the party as its general secretary and was, till his election to the top post, considered the second most powerful man in the party after Geelani.

Reports say Geelani’s health issues and other political responsibilities prompted his decision to resign from the post. Reports also say the decision may have to do with National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) investigations into the links between separatists and terror funding.

The NIA had arrested Altaf Ahmad Shah alias Altaf Fantoosh, the son-in-law of firebrand separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani, among others in connection with alleged funding of terrorist and secessionist activities.