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Omar Abdullah ko gussa kyon aata hai?


By questioning his state’s accession to India, the Jammu and Kashmir CM is only continuing with a time-tested family formula, reports Haroon Reshi
HAROON RESHI | Issue Dated: April 19, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Omar Abdullah | Kashmir | Farooq Abdullah | POK | Syed Liyaqat Ali |

The Abdullahs of Kashmir have a long and distinguished history of issuing intriguing statements and adopt seemingly contradictory postures. The great Sheikh Abdullah, reigning Chief Minister Omar’s grandfather and the state’s first head of government, kept New Delhi guessing about his true intentions. A patriotic statement issued in the Indian capital, a not-too-subtle statement underlining the disputed status of Kashmir in the valley and at another time, an unilateral discussion with Chinese Premier Chou en Lai in a third country on an independent status for Kashmir. So which was the true Sheikh?

Farooq Abdullah toed his father’s line. Loyalty to India was balanced by some pretty anti-Indian statements when the need arose – and there were plenty of those occasions. Omar Abdullah, therefore, is just following a hoary family tradition. Two weeks after Parliament unanimously passed a resolution affirming Jammu and Kashmir, including Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), as an integral part of India, Omar Abdullah argued that the state's accession to India was conditional. On March 25, he told the state assembly said, “Those who repeatedly claim that Jammu and Kashmir is ‘atoot ang’ (integral part) of India forget that the accession was only on three subjects; communication/currency, defence and foreign affairs.” Without naming New Delhi, the young CM alleged that the state’s special status had been eroded by successive Indian governments.

Omar Abdullah’s assembly sermon was delivered in the backdrop of the controversial arrest of former Kashmiri militant Syed Liyaqat Ali by the Delhi Police, which claimed that Ali had hatched a conspiracy to carry out a suicide attack in Delhi on the eve of Holi to avenge the hanging Afzal Guru. Omar Abdullah’s government has refuted Delhi Police claims, saying that the former militant was living in POK for the last 16 years and he along with his wife and children were heading to his native place under the government-backed surrender and rehabilitation policy.

 Be that as it may, the CM has a track record of questioning the state’s accession to India – particularly when his chips are down. In 2010 when people were protesting alleged killings by security agencies, Omar told the state assembly that ``Kashmir acceded to India, unlike Hyderabad and Junagadh it did not merge with India.”  On March 5, when a youth was reportedly killed by the Army in north Kashmir’s Baramullah District, Omar hit back, ``What answer will I give to the people. Have we held the Indian flag in our hands for this?”

In his moment of agony, Omar uttered the ultimate truism:`` Somebody (Afzal Guru) is hanged somewhere. The decision is taken by someone else (Government of India) and the mercy petition is rejected somewhere else. And the incident comes knocking to my house as if I have hanged him.”

Why is Omar Abdullah getting desperate? Kashmir watchers believe it has deep roots. ``National Conference (NC) and the Abdullahs, unlike other mainstream parties, are deeply rooted in Kashmiri nationalism. It goes back to the Sheikh’s Quit Kashmir moment and the autonomy resolution passed by a two-third NC majority in the assembly in 2006,’’ Noor Baba, head of the Political Science department, Kashmir University, told TSI.

Baba’s argument seems legitimate. Omar’s father Farooq Abdullah, currently a union minister, is a former member of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation front (JKLF). Nearly 26 years after the accession, Farooq had formally joined the JKLF, when he had visited POK in 1973.

Mustufa Kamal, Sheikh Abdulla's nephew and Omar’s uncle, told TSI: ``You may or may not like it but Kashmir is an unsolved dispute. When Omar Abdullah says that Kashmir had acceded to India only on three counts, he is reminding you of an undeniable historical fact. What is wrong ? Truth should prevail. Kashmir is not an integral part of India like the other states.''

It would appear that public opinion is on his side. Says Sheikh Abdullah's biographer and well known scholar Muhammad Yusuf Teng, ``The NC has never accepted J&K as an integral part of India and I believe this is the only reason why it is the only grassroot-level cadre-based regional political party in the state. Omar wants to refresh the party’s basic position by challenging the ideology of the Indian state.''He should know. 

However, some other political observers attribute more than just nationalism to this Abdullahspeak – more specifically the 2014 assembly elections. ``The fact is Omar Abdullah and his party are going to face a tough situation in the 2014 elections. To convince the people, NC seems to have nothing in its hand to sell. It has lost its ground in Jammu to the BJP and in Kashmir to the PDP. Now their leaders are trying to allure Kashmir’s Muslim sentiment by questioning the accession to India,” Zareef Ahmad Zareef, author and President, Valley Citizens Council, told TSI, adding, ``The ground reality is that Omar Abdullah has failed to deliver. He could not even fulfill the promises he had made to the people in terms of the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the implementation of the recommendations of the working group on centre-state relation headed by Justice (retd) Sagir Ahmed, who has recommended more autonomy for the state.”

Apart from the mysterious deaths at Shopian in 2009 and the killing of 100 people during the stone pelting agitation next year, Omar's tenure has been marked by relative calm until the Afzal Guru hanging this year. That has been a signal for another round of curfews, arrests, an unofficial media gag and detention of popular separatists. Concurrently, militants appeared to be beginning to reassert. Half-a-dozen panchayat members have been killed in the past six months. There have been frequent skirmishes and casualties between militants and Indian security forces.

According to journalist Riyaz Masroor, ‘‘NC is essentially the mother of all  separatist movements in Kashmir. After recasting itself as a pro-India regional political force in 1975, it has been walking the tightrope of regional autonomy and integration with India. This was never easy.''  He continues: ``In 1938 the Sheikh distanced himself from the Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan but his arrest in 1953 spawned a separatist movement that lasted 22 years. After his accord with Indira Gandhi, Sheikh learned conflict politics. In Kashmir he would talk of autonomy and in Delhi he would pose as a bulwark against separatism. Omar is only following his grandfather’s rule book.” Good tactics, but will it help Omar's poll bid?

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017