Omar Abdullah on the horns of a dilemma

Omar Abdullah was the youngest Chief Minister of J&K (Photo: PTI)
Omar Abdullah was the youngest Chief Minister of J&K (Photo: PTI)

Kashmiri youth are puzzled to know that in his interview to Karan Thapar, Omar Abdullah has sounded pessimistic about his interest in politics. He has not given any cogent reason for the change of heart. Such depressing moods are the result of a combination of various factors, personal, circumstantial or professional. His abstention from politics will be a loss to the Kashmiri youth in the long run.

We should keep away from discussing Omar’s personal life. It is the circumstantial and political environment that seems to have triggered his despondency. Omar is young; he comes from a distinguished family entrenched in politics that forms an important chapter of the modern history of Kashmir. He has been groomed in local politics from his childhood under the supervision of his father and grandfather. The entire atmosphere in which he opened his eyes and grew to reach the adolescence was steeped in politics.

Omar may not have seen the tumultuous days of his grandfather’s struggle for replacing the autocratic dispensation in Kashmir by a popular government. But he has been a witness to the great turmoil in Kashmir caused by the externally sponsored and abetted armed insurgency in 1989-90 preceded by recurring incidents of planned or unplanned bombing or firing at odd places in Srinagar city or the towns. He was inducted into active politics of the state at a very young age and was catapulted into the seat of power without much experience for the crucial post of the chief minister. Observers think that his father was keen for the perpetuation of the dynastic rule. Farooq Abdullah neither observed the norms of a fresher going through the mill of party discipline and training, nor did he remember that his father’s long struggle was against the dynastic rule.

But why single out Omar for the hateful dynastic rule. We have several states in which progeny of erstwhile rulers still rule the roost and wield influence. Being the scion of an outstanding dynasty is not as disgusting as being cast in an inward looking and fixated mindset.

As party chief or as the chief minister, Omar had to be docile and submissive to his over-imposing and flamboyant father. The qualities of assertiveness, initiative and creativity, known as the hallmark of a successful leader, remained elusive for him. Farooq toed the line of the old guard in National Conference with which Omar was not compatible owing to the proverbial generation gap.

In the Gupkar meet, one could find that Omar was more a sidelined odd man than a pro-active member. His inner light is dimmer than what it was in the past. The explanation is that when a youth leader who has all the pre-requisites at his bidding but is unable to find space and freedom to translate his ideas, vision and initiative into practice, his determination and urge slow down and pale into insignificance.

The developments of August 5, 2019 has left its impact on him. Omar grew in an atmosphere of enormous public support to his grandfather’s house. The public support was misconstrued as the perennial source of power. The house began to believe in the permanence of power and influence forgetting that in democratic dispensation public opinion is not to be taken for granted.

His father had vowed that streams of blood would flow if Article 370 was removed. The NC in general and the Sheikh House in particular, believed that Article 370 was the eternal gift they had won for the Kashmiris. Contrary to all this tall talk he found that when Article 370 was torn to shreds not a dog barked in the valley. Farooq’s threats had vanished in thin air. Omar fathomed the shallowness of his party leader’s claptrap. He is justified in saying he is shocked by the aftermath of August 5 episode. It has come like a shock to many more especially those who used Article 370 as an instrument of blackmailing.

Omar has, perhaps for the first time, realized that power rests with the people. He had often argued that J&K had only “acceded” and not “integrated” into the Indian Union. Norms of democracy are not applied selectively. A federating unit economically and financially fully dependent on the federation has to understand that the line dividing accession from integration is no more existent as the unit moves ahead along the path to economic and social development. That is precisely what Nehru had meant by his famous comment on Article 370, viz., “ghiste ghiste ghis jaega”.  

In hindsight, Omar must be ruminating over how National Conference failed to rise to the occasion in the face of externally sponsored armed insurgency. Perhaps he had no say in warning the NC cadres of the serious repercussions it’s hobnobbing with the jihadist-terrorists groups would bring in the trail. Not only that, Omar must be wondering how come his father wants to carry Kashmir into the lap of China as did the leaders of Pakistan did with Pakistan. The consequence is that thousands of Pakistani girls “married” to Chinese men have been taken to China where they finally landed in the brothels. Farooq is not to be blamed for the China daydream; his illustrious father, too, had fallen into the trance as on 31 March 1965, he had a long-secret meeting with the then Chinese premier Chow en Lai in Algiers.

Omar’s disillusionment is also caused by the incredible corruption that had seeped deep into the administrative cadres of the state and the collapse of moral force of the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy never obliged him, rather he obliged the bureaucracy by succumbing to the pressures they brought via his father and other bigwigs in the party.

Modi’s ascendency is a worry not only to Omar but to the entire Muslim leadership of the valley as well. It is because of the way the Islamic fundamentalists have projected him. The reasons are very simple. Modi understood the tricks of blackmail in which NC leaders are adept and he countered them. The earlier regime, viz., Congress gave the NC the requisite leeway to profile itself as the secularist symbol of Kashmir yet perpetrate rank communalism in practice. Manipulating elections, bureaucracy, administration, relations with the centre, insurgency, and ethnic cleansing of Kashmir, and above all, pursuing avenues of self-aggrandizement were the gifts to the people during latest phase of the NC regime. Omar could not move a single blade of grass without the permission of the High Command, viz., his father, uncle and close family elders reducing him to the status of a pawn on the NC’s chessboard of politics.

Omar has to reconcile with some fundamentals of statecraft if he intends to return to politics and do some lasting service to the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The foremost is that J&K is an integral part of the Union of India and it can survive only in that capacity and in no other form call it autonomy, greater autonomy, self rule etc. Kashmir is crucial not only to India’s foreign policy but more to her security parameters. As such Kashmir leadership has to reshape its relations and approach in a manner that it remains in the national mainstream. Secondly, the power rests in the hands of the people and democracy is the other name of the majoritarianism however obnoxious it may be. Lastly, Kashmir leadership has to realize that the days of blackmail are gone for all times as are the days of the dynastic rule. No people in this country deserve any special treatment because our economic development has to be universal and all-pervasive. All steps that lead to the integration of the State (at present UT) with the Indian Union have to be hailed and given due recognition.

If these realities are understood and recognized by Omar Abdullah, we can assure him that he will wriggle out of the dilemma and despondency. He will find new horizons of progress and happiness opening on him and his people in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

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