Abdullah the prodigal

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Dr Farooq Abdullah is at it again, making the statements that generate the instant media and public attention. Addressing National Conference workers at his residence in Gupkar on Wednesday, Abdullah said that the youth who are throwing stones are doing so for their nation. “If our youth are sacrificing their lives, they are not doing so for tourism. They are doing it to force a resolution of Kashmir that is acceptable to the people of the state,” Abdullah said in response to Prime Narendra Modi’s recent statement that Kashmiri youth had to choose between “tourism and terrorism”.  .

What is more, Abdullah supported the US mediation offer on Kashmir, terming it “a good thing” as India and Pakistan had failed to bilaterally resolve Kashmir. Seated in a chair and clad in pheran, Abdullah was in a combative mood and willing to say anything that plays to the mood in Valley. And there is a good reason for him to do so. A separatist rhetoric has traditionally been a best bet for a Kashmiri leader to mobilize support during an election. This gives him an easy advantage over their rivals. More so, when the rivals are in power and as a result need to exercise restraint. Abdullah’s main rival this time is the ruling PDP’s Nazir Khan, a lesser known  candidate whose campaign has expectedly been muted and lacklustre.  

However Abdullah’s new anti-New Delhi avatar can’t be entirely put down to the ongoing election campaign. He has been making the secessionist sounding statements since his  return to the state’s political scene in October last following his extended medical treatment in  London where he went through a kidney-replacement operation. In the throes of the unrest at the time, Valley hardly took note of him but his deeply controversial statements got a due play in media. One such statement was telling New Delhi bluntly that  “PoK was not its father’s property”.

In power, Abdullah has largely been a pro-New Delhi politician, even speaking against his own people. But through it all, Abdullah the politician has stuck around and survived. Despite his temperamental excesses, his see-saw between extreme political postures and his love for play and pleasure with a seamlessly bad governance to boot, Abdullah has continued to retain his position as the  most familiar, if not the popular politician of the state. In his own characteristic way, he can capriciously drift in one direction, fast retrace his steps and then swerve to another direction.

In this election, he has been at his theatrical best. He has made no attempt to  straddle the Valley’s precarious mainstream-separatist divide, something that PDP was adept at doing in opposition. On the contrary, Abdullah has chosen to unapologetically ride the crest of the prevailing heightened separatist sentiment by taking on New Delhi and obliquely associating NC with Hurriyat and Kashmiri nationalist and religious sentiment.  Is Abdullah doing this to win the ongoing parliament by-poll in Srinagar, in which he is a candidate? This seems apparently the case. And he might very well end up winning the  election.  And not necessarily because of the public support for him but by default as is generally the case in Kashmir. The parties and their candidates win because there is no real option for the voters. But as Abdullah’s ongoing campaign would tell you, his value transcends electoral politics. He can be alternately pro and anti-New Delhi, champion secularism and even praise the rightwing. And through it all he not only escapes unscathed but grow from strength to political strength.

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