April 2002 News

Watch out for this guy on the motorbike, he's got plans

7 April 2002
The Indian Express
Muzamil Jaleel

NEW DELHI: Farooq Abdullah certainly has a well-developed sense of the dramatic. Last week saw the chief minister of J&K lambasting the NDA government for not having the courage to go to war with Pakistan. The very next day the newspapers were full of photographs of the man, with Union Home Minister Advani, full of bonhomie and high spirits. Who, then, is me real Farooq Abdullah and what does he stand for? This, is a riotoriously difficult question to answer. All that can be said with a degree of certainty is that, with the state getting ready for assembly polls, Abdullah's strategy is to keep power, Yet what has he done for J&K in the five and a half years he has ruled it? There can be little doubt that his government failed a people torn apart by years of violence. His stint will be remembered more by the multi-crore golf course he built than by any drive or desire to change people's lives. His plans to anoint his son as his successor is indication that he is preparing for another dramatic interlude on Kashmir's political stage. There is very likelihood of the National Conference (NC) now snapping ties with the NDA government and son Omar Abdullah being propelled to power in the state on the rhetoric of autonomy. As for Abdullah's own career, wen, he seems determined to make, a bid for me office of vice president. There is little doubt that Abdullah is one of the most colourful characters on the political stage. In Srinagar, his name conjures up the image of a happy-go-lucky motorcycle rider, with Shabana Azmi on the pillion, zigzagging his way through the pathways of Gulmarg. While, on the surface, there is little to suggest that Abdullah is a serious politician, if you look at his profile more closely, he emerges out as one of me most astute players of the game. A great survivor, his amiable personality has ensured that despite political animosity he enjoys personal friendships with every major leader. In the Valley, many term him Kashmir's Laloo. Abdullah's journey to power has been exceedingly smooth. Being the son of Kashmir's tallest leader; Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, he was made chief of the NC's youth wing even when he was just a young medical doctor. Elected to Parliament, he was soon called back to serve as the health minister in his father's state government He was appointed president of the NC mereafter. Farooq Abdullah's first stint, as chief minister, after the Sheikh's death, was marked by a careless approach to politics. He took too much for granted and lit his own fires. The dismissal of his government in 1984 was almost inevitable, when his own men defected and helped G.M. Shah, his estranged brother-in-law, to form the government with Congress support. That experience was to mark him permanently. The overnight dismissal seemed to have convinced him above all about the need to always remain in the good books of the Centre, irrespective of the party in power. He was convinced that it was this, rather than mass support on the streets, that guaranteed governmental stability. But the strategy was to change the character of his party. Abdullah went a step further and began talking of shaking hands with his party's arch rival in the state the Congress. With this, the seeds of alienation were sown within the party, but Abdullah went right ahead. The Farooq Abdullah-Rajiv Gandhi alliance ensured their landslide success in the 1987 polls but it also eroded the NC's support base. The move fanned separatism because it left the majority of Kashmiris with no outlet for their anti-centre feelings. From this point on, everything changed. Militancy emerged in Kashmir and the gun took over politics. Abdullah got a bitter taste of the new reality when he attempted to address an Eid gathering at me Hazratbal shrine on May 7, 1989, and was shouted down quite a change from the days when his father held people enthralled with his oratory at this very spot It wasn't long before Farooq Abdullah was once again forced to leave his chair, thus paving the way for New Delhi's longest stint at ruling the state. Abdullah packed his bags and left the Valley for the UK. It seemed, for a while, that he had bid farewell to politics forever. But he was back the moment me violence eased a bit, vowing to redeem the lost honour of the Kashmiris. Although the 1996 assembly polls were marred by reports of coercion, Abdullah did get votes for his greater autonomy plan and the NC swept the polls. But very soon Abdullah wax habitat golfing and partying with governance being left to a group of favoured bureaucrats. The biggest blow Abdullah perpetrated on the party came when he joined the BJP-led government at the Centre. This did help him secure for his son a ministership, but it was a relationship that was even more opportunistic than die one he had with the Congress. Last year, in a bid to retrieve lost ground, Abdullah resurrected the autonomy plank. But when he refused to end his ties with the BJP after the Centre summarily rejected the proposal, it was dear that, for this man, remaining in power was the only agenda. It is an instinct mat will continue to drive him in the crucial months ahead.


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