Between Chief Ministership and Leadership


Can Omar come out of the closet? 

I like Omar Abdullah; he has a different value system,’ an important, influential and intellectual turned politician once told me.  This may well be true but it does not appear to be of any consequence for his politics and the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Omar became Chief Minister at a young age. This was significant given that Kashmir was (and still is) in transition-demographically, economically, socially and hence politically. The new young cohort of Kashmir- fed up with the sterile, hackneyed and even tainted politics of the past- vicariously connected or more accurately related to Omar: he was young, articulate, clean and straight. It was Omar’s speech at the Parliament that kind of clinched the deal, so to speak. A tsunami of expectations developed amongst the youth of Kashmir from Omar. Omar was held by the youth cohort of Kashmiri to articulate, aggregate and even embody their aspirations. But alas and unfortunately, these expectations gradually gave way to disappointment.

Omar’s tenure as Chief Minister turned out to be more of the same for youth of Kashmir.  The common refrain amongst the youth and people was that Omar himself was clean, untainted and principled but what had he done? This disappointment became more poignant as debacles after debacles-ranging from 2010 Ragda, to Afzal Guru hanging and then the 2014 floods hit Kashmir.  Incidentally, while the Government completed a six year tenure, Omar who, I have been told was very open and accessible initially became increasingly aloof and withdrawn. Gradually but inexorably, the young cohort of Kashmir, lost interest in Omar. He now finds passing mention in conversations as a ‘good guy’- better than the rest.

The question is why?

This is a question that Omar Abdullah can best answer. We can but speculate.

Omar may be temperamentally a different person- different from the rest of us. He may believe in the primacy of reason and logic; may be an introverted personality and even have a different value system but in the rough and tumble of politics-especially in Kashmir- these aspects or features of personality are not enough by themselves. The Kashmiri psyche, historically, is defined by repressed and suppressed urges and desires. This may explain the mass protests that periodically happen in Kashmir. Once a critical threshold of anger is reached, all it needs is a catalyst to explode in the open. At the same time, We, Kashmiris are a timid people; we need a person or persons to articulate stuff for us and stand up for us. Our deepest yearnings, anxieties, and aspirations reside in the recesses of our psyche. It is only after someone holds a mirror to us and guides us and shows a way that we respond and become assertive.  In this sense, we, Kashmiris suffer from what psychologists and psychiatrists have called, ‘Abandoned Child Syndrome’.  

Abandoned Child Syndrome occurs when children are raised with chronic loss, without the psychological or physical protection they need and certainly deserve; it is most natural for them to internalize incredible fear. Not receiving the necessary psychological or physical protection equals abandonment. And, living with repeated abandonment experiences creates toxic shame ( We, Kashmiris, then need to be cured of this syndrome. This naturally calls for a paternalist leader who will understand us Kashmiris, our needs, our temperament, anxieties and our fears.  There’s not many around in our political spectrum who can assume this role. But if Omar aspires to be a leader, he may have no other option but to exactly do this. He will become Chief Minister again–either in coalition or even by dint of his party’s performance. But chief ministership is different from leadership. Leadership, besides warranting themes delineated in this piece’ calls for sacrifice, boldness, courage and at times to go against the tide –all for the sake of larger ideas and , of course, the people.  And, in the final analysis, what is mere chief ministership? Public office that a person is entitled to on account of votes in a democracy and that allows a person to govern a peoples. The real challenge is to reside and govern the hearts and minds of people. Can Omar do this? I am not sure but if wants to, this would require coming out of the closet.


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