Omar Abdullah’s Poll Posturing in Times of Political Pandemic

Since his walk to freedom from the jinxed castle of Kashmir’s last monarch this March, Omar Abdullah has been playing according to the script scandalized by his predecessors.

Gowher Nazir

Beyond a brewing ‘storm in a teacup’ over the controversial domicile law in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, one man’s political posturing has come to define the deafening political silence in the region, now known for its new nomenclature, and crumbling old order.

With riled Jammu forcing New Delhi to inflict job amendments within three days of the new domicile law notice, the prominent Kashmiri unionist with a new twitter bioline—‘former PSA Political detainee, former CM of J&K state, former Union Minister, former MP, former MLA’—is apparently playing safe on the issue.

Even his father, the veteran Farooq Abdullah, whom India’s “Joan of Arc”, Indira Gandhi, once perceived as a potential threat for “India’s second partition” has largely lowered his ‘blazing gun’ guards.

Lately eulogized by the grand old party National Conference’s loyalists as “tiger”, the senior Abdullah has only maintained a dubious foot-dragging over the issue so far.

Detention, many say, creates its own discipline. And it seems no different for the mercurial Abdullah.

Earlier, on a shower-soaked March day, as he walked out as a bearded and liberated captive brandishing modish outfits and an old school umbrella, the Abdullah scion, schooled in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s NDA regime, curtly sought time, before sharing his views on the abrogation of J&K’s Special Status.

“From day one of his release, he [Omar] has only followed his family suit,” said Zahoor Rehman, a Kashmiri Political Science scholar, based out of New Delhi.

“His grandfather binned Plebiscite Movement on pretext of ‘political wilderness’, his father let Vajpayee-led NDA government devour the Autonomy Resolution passed by State Legislature. And now, Omar Abdullah tacitly compromised on the last summer’s Gupkar Declaration (GD), that vowed to safeguard the special status of the state.”

Has Omar Abdullah tacitly compromised on the last summer’s Gupkar Declaration?

Adopted on war-footing at the twilight of J&K’s semiautonomous state, GD saw adversaries turning allies in Farooq Abdullah’s manicured lawn last August, when rumours, advisories and loose talks had the former state on the edge.

It was a collective action plan from the local unionists, against the rightwing attempts to render J&K’s special status null and void.

Earlier, as the political suspense ensued, Omar Abdullah along with his father and a party colleague, Hasnain Masoodi flew Delhi to meet and seek PM Narendra Modi’s assurance on Article 370 and 35-A.

After the meeting, the father-son duo addressed the media with long faces, betraying their own jaded body language while affirming PM’s tacit support on the status quo.

Omar Abdullah who once predicted that Burhan Wani would be more dangerous in his grave than alive was now telling people that he had no idea about the situation, despite getting that assurance from Prime Minister Modi

Back in Raj Bhavan then, the BJP governor (earlier drafted from Bihar as some kind of a ramrod to discipline the local unionist camp) would endorse the Delhi’s take on J&K’s special constitutional positioning: “As of now, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Both PM Modi, and Governor Satya Pal Malik—now deputed on a ‘prize-posting’ to Goa—instead sent the father-son duo behind bars, and fulfilled the long rightwing demand, first raised by the RSS fountainhead, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, who died in detention in 1953, when Omar’s grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah was Prime Minister of J&K.

On the night of August 4-5, 2019 — the nocturnal nightmare equated with ‘the night of broken glass’ by many in Kashmir — the stage was set to scrap the special status of the state.

J&K at once became a ghost town and an information blackhole.

Minutes before that dismal hour, Omar Abdullah sent out alarming, yet vague tweet, asking everyone to maintain calm and trust Almighty.

“The man [Omar Abdullah] who once predicted that Burhan Wani would be more dangerous in his grave than alive was now telling people that he had no idea about the situation, despite getting that assurance from Modi,” said Shakeel Rehman, a Srinagar-based commentator.

“Surely, he [Omar] was playing a conman at the crucial juncture of Kashmir history, and that detention drama which followed appeared a preplanned step to restore some sympathy and legitimacy in these local partners of New Delhi in Kashmir.”

Almost six months later, as Omar Abdullah’s ‘freedom’ coincided with the global pandemic lockdown, the Gupkar Declaration was conveniently pushed on a backburner.

The declaration might resurrect, he hinted, once the novel coronavirus vanishes.

But even in the plague, New Delhi looks in no mood to pause and ponder.

Days after netizens debated the glaring absence of BJP’s go-getter and Home Minister of India, Amit Shah from Covid-19 rescue scene, the domicile law came into force in the union territory.

“So, we know, what kept Amit Shah busy all these days,” a Kashmiri netizen wrote.

Omar Abdullah too let his twitter handle censure Modi government’s “ill-timed” law. But shortly, he was demanding Statehood and Elections as an alternative, or maybe, an antidote to JK’s political quagmire and quandary.

“They [Abdullahs] did it in 1996,” Rashid Ahmad, a senior Kashmiri journalist reacted over the Omar’s new pitch, “and are doing it now.”

As the floodgates of fury followed, Omar expressed his regret to get ‘sucked into the [domicile] debate’ and termed twitter a worthless space to share his yet to-be expressed views on August 5, 2019.

“As Delhi’s new Kashmir handler, Omar should not cut such a stupid figure for himself in the name of poll posturing,” said Abbas Ali, a political activist from Pulwama.

“Indian spymaster, AS Dulat, whose spycraft book [Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years] Omar Abdullah wanted to vet for vomiting some ‘state secrets’ once, is already telling everyone that Omar is the next chief minister of J&K.”

In his book, Ali continued, Dulat clearly mentions how Omar had become a blue-eyed boy for NDA regime back in early 2000, when his ‘Indian nationalist’ father had become a villain for raising his Autonomy pitch.

“Omar was always their [BJP’s] preferred choice, than say, Mehbooba Mufti, whom they always suspected for her alleged militant links,” the activist said.

Omar, who served as MOS External Affairs under Prime Minister Vajpayee, it is said, was always their [BJP’s] preferred choice

With NDA government ruling Delhi again, Ali feels, it’s a ‘ghar wapsi’ for Omar.

“While he seems their assured bet right now, Omar shouldn’t encroach upon Altaf Bukhari’s ‘Statehood’ political territory in the name of polls,” the activist said.

Bukhari, a moneyed merchant and an ex-finance minister in the now dusted PDP-BJP ‘unholy alliance’, lately emerged as a new dark horse in Kashmir’s political landscape.

Marshaling a troupe of defectors and turncoats, Bukhari leads JK Apni Party (AP), according to an old adage: “Let bygones be bygones.”

The bastion of this widely seen ‘BJP’s proxy’ band lies in Srinagar’s plush Sheikhbagh, where the twin demands—Restoration of Statehood and Domicile Law—has now given Kashmir a new power-street.

“But when Delhi came up with the controversial domicile law lately, Bukhari Sahab made it sure to express his displeasure on behalf of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, with HM Amit Ji and NSA Ajit Doval Ji,” said a PDP defector, now part of the Bukhari-led new political party.

“We mean business and practice realistic politics, unlike those dynasts who have been misguiding people of J&K for decades now.”

After MHA somehow restored status quo on jobs, the Bukhari-led group felt vindicated.

But what’s surprising in this whole scheme of things is Omar Abdullah’s AP-style of politics.

Even NC diehards despise it quite badly.

“Maintaining a criminal silence on the increased infiltration of Delhi in Kashmir and sending out those stupid tweets in such grave times, Omar is only suggesting that he has lost his marbles in detention,” said Imtiyaz Bhat, a NC foot-soldier from downtown Srinagar, and a loyalist of the incarcerated Ali Mohammad Sagar.

Ire in Kashmir’s grand old party’s cadres is blatant since last summer, when even their ‘pro-India loyalty’ didn’t come to their rescue.

Dragged to dungeons, despite ‘upholding Indian constitution’ in Kashmir during trying times when many of their colleagues fell to dissident guns, has made many of them disillusioned of their politics.

“At least now,” Bhat continued, “the party leadership should work to restore some honour and pride in us. They must fight for the lost rights, especially for the special status.”

But given the apparent shift in Gupkar, Bhat and his slurred tribe only fear another chapter in Kashmir’s chequered history.

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