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Protégées Of A Mysterious Character

Peerzada Ummer | India Tomorrow

SRINAGAR, AUGUST 26—On March 13, this year, patriarch of Kashmir’s National Conference (NC) Dr Farooq Abdullah was released after seven months of captivity. Flanked by his wife and younger daughter, Farooq Abdullah addressed media persons in his fortified bungalow in Srinagar which government till then had turned into a sub-jail.  This 81-year old veteran politician thanked his family and friends for all the support he got during the period of incarceration. However, he surprisingly spoke no word on Article 370 abrogation. When asked about the Government of India’s decision of stripping Jammu and Kashmir of all its special privileges, Abdullah meticulously ducked the question, telling journalists that he would respond at an appropriate time.

Next day, on March 14, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad met the NC President at the latter’s home. Both came out together to address the media. Azad wanted the release of the entire political leadership, restoration of statehood, and initiation of the political process. Abdullah was standing right next to Azad. And he wanted nothing. It was all but his silence that dominated the entire scenario that day.

Ten days later, Abdullah’s son and NC’s vice President Omar Abdullah was released.  He, too, disappointed the byte hungry media men who cornered him from all sides to know his views on Article 370 abrogation. Omar rather wanted people to follow COVID 19 guidelines and told media that in the middle of the pandemic, his views on scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status carries no significance. 

However, what raised the eyebrows and turned speculations rife about a possible secret deal that NC might have entered into with GOI was a write-up by Omar Abdullah’s political advisor, Tanvir Sadiq in a local daily of Srinagar. “As a starting point for this, let all political prisoners arrested post-August 5 be released before Eid, revisit the domicile law and lift all curbs on the Internet and telecommunication and let the end of the pandemic and the beginning of the political process be run along parallel lines. Kashmir, its people, and the country need this,” Tanvir wrote.

Party’s chief spokesman and a prominent Shia leader Aga Ruhullah Mehdi was first to raise the voice, terming party’s core ideology and its present stand on Kashmir’s special status frighteningly misplaced.

“‘Revisit’ domicile law? Lift curbs on Internet? …If I am not reading wrong, you are basically asking for 4G and THEIR ‘PERMISSION’ to let us start the political process? & then all is well?”

“What is a political process for you? Only an election? If we go with a reason and stand our course, even being detained is a part of the political process. Sorry, it’s insulting to ask them to ‘let us’,” Mehdi said.

He said his colleagues were detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA). “I wish and pray for their immediate release. But, believe our (house) detention is a political message and process itself. I am currently under house detention and I am honestly ready to be taken to a prison after what I say. But I would never ask them to let us. When you ask them to let us, it will naturally be on their terms,” he added.

A senior national conference functionary from central Kashmir told India Tomorrow that Mehdi’s disgruntlement was, in fact, a hint of a possible rebellion knocking at the party’s door. “There were several senior NC leaders who wanted the party to raise voice on Article 370 or else they wouldn’t even be able to meet people on the ground, leave alone seeking votes from them,” said the NC leader while pleading for anonymity.

In July, while his father was still in oblivion, Omar Abdullah finally broke the lull and decided to speak his heart out. He chose New Delhi based newspaper The Indian Express for his first post-incarceration interview.  From the choice of the newspaper, it became evidently clear that the dynast actually wants to send out the message for New Delhi.  During the entire interview, Omar seemed inclined to play ball with the GOI.  He demanded no autonomy, no 370, no special status, categorically stated that he wouldn’t be joining anti-Modi front and that he wouldn’t be part of any street politics in Kashmir.

A day after it was published, Omar’s remarks hogged headlines all across and what rumours were till yesterday were confirmed to be true by none other than Omar Abdullah himself.  In an interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire, former RAW chief A.S. Dulat had indicated in March that Abdullahs’ release was part of a deal with the Centre.  Aga Ruhullah Mehdi who till then was only disgruntled with his party, formally resigned from his post a day after the interview was published.

Article 370 and Kashmir’s regional parties

Kashmir’s special status and its protection has been forming the core ideology of Kashmir centric pro-India political groups even before the onset of militancy in the region in 1990.

From NC’s autonomy to PDP’s self-rule and achievable nationhood of Peoples Conference, everything in Kashmir’s mainstream political woods used to revolve around the special status and preserving Kashmir’s Muslim majority character. These political groups have struggled, fought, worked hard, undergone tremendous disasters and escaped a thousand deaths but never have they witnessed such insurmountable predicament engulfing them to the core as is today. 

With 370 gone, the political turn for these groups is shrinking.  A slightest mistake of today would plunge them into an unending cycle of perturbation. 

“Omar’s views didn’t in anyway coalesce with our party’s basic stand. Statehood comes second. I mean we wouldn’t be able to show our faces to people if the party leadership keeps speaking such objectionable language,” NC leader from Srinagar told India Tomorrow.

 He added that a group of veteran party leaders appraised Farooq Abdullah about the dangers menacingly looming large if it doesn’t mend the ways.

Sensing rebellion knocking the party’s doorsteps, Abdullah arrogated the role of a firefighter to none but himself.  Since the past one week, this octogenarian has been contradicting everything his son, stated in his recent interviews.  From forming an alliance of Kashmir centric mainstream groups to terming restoration of Article 370 a prime and foremost objective, Abdullah is these days doing everything to undo the damages his son has reportedly done through his infantile statements.

Son goes missing

Omar, meanwhile, is silent these days. Ever since his interviews have terribly gone wrong, Omar is nowhere visible.   But there is one more perspective to this scene.  Has his father really thrown him off like a fly in the ointment and himself assuming the center stage?  Would Omar’s silence and Farooq Abdullah’s rhetoric assuage the ruffled mood of his party functionaries? Is the father-son duo playing a fixed match? 

Abdullahs, after all, have been in Kashmir’s modern history protégées of a mysterious character. 

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