When Kashmir is adrift and crying for a direction, its top leader steps out to inaugurate an ice cream parlour
FIRST, a confession: I love eating ice-creams.
During the winter season too, I sometimes clandestinely eat ice-creams. Soon, my bad throat does all the talking. Vanilla remains my all-time favourite. I am not fond of chocolate toppings, strawberry, banana split, mango or other added flavours.
During my sojourns in Hyderabad and London I would always enjoy my Vanilla ice-cream. Vanilla is simple and it goes with almost everything. For example, chips. However, in Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and Spain I did not eat ice-creams. I do not remember or know why.
To put it bluntly, I do not have a moral or intellectual right to criticise Dr. Farooq Abdullah’s food habits. A recent picture of him having an ice-cream has gone viral. I plead guilty for I also sent out a harmless tweet with some important dates about Kashmir’s history since 1953 and a picture of senior Abdullah inaugurating an ice-cream parlour in the summer capital.
I did not dare criticise Farooq Abdullah for having an ice-cream or for sharing a lighter moment at his age when there are tensions in the far-away Galwan Valley and at the Pangong Tso Lake in the Ladakh region. Neither did I use the word “compromise” anywhere nor did I mock Abdullah for eating his ice-cream outdoors. No moral policing.
How could I have done that?
In ‘Naya Kashmir’ we are so cautious that we tell our nose not to smell the fragrance of the rose while entering a garden. Because smelling the fragrance with one of our sense organs (in this case, our nose) without seeking permission from the bureaucrats could be declared an offence, according to the new J&K Media Policy. We must act responsibly. The act of smelling can fall under “unethical” or “sedition” category!
After all, what is wrong with having an ice-cream?
When Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah’s son and another former Chief Minister of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, was trolled on Twitter over his personal life story, past marriage, separation and an alleged affair, I always remained away from commenting. Everyone deserves privacy. Intrusion in privacy is an unwanted and an indecent act.
During my career, as a broadcast and print journalist, spanning over 15 years I have stayed away from intrusion in anyone’s private life, including important politicians and the who’s who. I abhor this ugly practice.
Allow me a small divergence. A few months ago a prominent BBC journalist invited me to his prime time show and asked me to analyse Farooq Abdullah’s release from the alleged house arrest and his alleged silence on Kashmir politics.
Initially, I did not know what to say to him. But since the programme was being recorded silence was not an option. Mercifully, I hadn’t signed a bond or given an undertaking to remain silent or to speak up. “In a situation wherein Kashmir’s top politicians talk about anything but politics there is very little left to analyse and a lot to mourn about,” I said. “Iss ka tajziya nahin balki is par maatam kia ja sakta hai,” I spoke in chaste Urdu.
At the time of the BBC interview, senior Abdullah had just been released and he had declared that he would not speak on political matters unless all other political detainees were released. And he hadn’t eaten his ice-cream by then.
As journalists, analysts and commentators, it is our professional predicament to say, write and analyse the given situations. We do not nurse any personal grudges. Politicians and their spokespersons should show some mercy and grace in tolerating our harmless views.
Meanwhile, in his first public appearance after release from ‘house arrest’ the former five-time Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir on June 27 did two things. One, Farooq Abdullah was seen buying smart mobile phones for the family members in Srinagar’s city centre. Two, he also allegedly inaugurated an ice cream parlour (Nirula’s chain).
Though it was unclear from the hastily-written news reports whether Dr. Abdullah bought the Chinese-made mobile phones or boycotted the Chinese products.
Anyway, for years a journalist friend has been maintaining that Farooq Abdullah will always make ‘news’. His argument is that whether Farooq speaks or not you have to understand that his silence too is a form of speech and therefore meaningful.
The problem is not his ice-cream, but his reluctance to talk on matters that concern every single Kashmiri. The matters related to existence, demography, land, property, jobs and scholarships etc. It does not take a lot of time for the ice-cream to melt in our hands, especially in the hot sun, but the hot political issues are not like ice-creams. They remain there like a big elephant in the room.
Credible reports said that former spymaster and chief of India’s intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), Amarjit Singh Dulat had come to Kashmir to meet Farooq Abdullah at his Gupkar residence. Dulat said in an interview that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was aware of his Srinagar visit and his meeting with Abdullah. It is not about an ice-cream!
Dulat in his memoir Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years has showered accolades on Abdullah. Dulat wrote: “Money in Kashmir goes way back, even to Sheikh Abdullah’s time. After all, why was Sheikh Abdullah dismissed as Prime Minister of J&K in 1953? … Thus, since Sheikh Saheb’s time, anybody who’s been on the right side of Delhi has been getting money from Delhi. It’s as simple as that.” It is not about an ice-cream!
And in his second book titled Spy Chronicles, which was co-authored with the former intelligence chief of Pakistan, Asad Durrani, and written by Indian journalist and editor Aditya Sinha, Dulat said, “He (Farooq Abdullah) is one Kashmiri who understands not only Kashmir but New Delhi well. He is the best bridge between Delhi and Srinagar. Now he’s reached a stage where he needs to understand Pakistan, and if he did, and he already knows Delhi, then it would help.” It is not about an ice-cream!
People want to listen to the otherwise firebrand Abdullah. Is Abdullah’s newly-acquired silence on politics his conviction or compulsion? Or, is there a repeat of what his father late Sheikh Abdullah did back in 1975?
Kashmiris are gracious people. They did not object when back in the Eighties, Farooq rode pillion on a motorcycle with his actress-friend Shabana Azmi in front. People are not objecting to him having his ice-cream now. All they want to know is why the roar is missing. ‘Kuch to hai jiski pardah daari hai!’
In all fairness, J&K National Conference in its official statements has started to oppose the new domicile order and new Media Policy and made a renewed demand for restoration of autonomy for J&K besides challenging the August 5 decision in the Supreme Court. No denying that.
That said, the people also remember what LK Advani, former deputy prime minister and senior BJP leader, wrote in his memoir My Country, My Life. In detail Advani argued that Dr. Abdullah had allowed the issue of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy to lapse after “Atalji (AB Vajpayee) told Dr Abdullah to decide whether to continue in the NDA at the Centre following the Union Cabinet’s rejection of the state assembly’s autonomy resolution.”
“To his credit, Dr Abdullah allowed the issue to lapse,” Advaniji noted.
And once in a television interview with Karan Thapar, Farooq had said that “credibility is not important. It comes and goes.”
That is why it is not about an ice-cream!
Gowhar Geelani is a journalist-author who served Deutsche Welle as editor. He is author of Kashmir: Rage and Reason
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