September 2002 News

Amethi of Kashmir gives Abdullah''s son a hard time

23 September 2002
The Pioneer
Meenakshi Rao

Ganderbal: From Ganderbal - the Amethi of Kashmir - a lot of explanations and apologies are pouring out. And the political dynasty''s youngest son, Omar Abdullah, has been carrying out this difficult and embarrassing task. Difficult because popular recriminations are just too many. Embarrassing because its his father''s apathy that he is often unable to explain. Ganderbal rues the fact that in the 1996 election, it returned not an MLA but an inaccessible, security cordoned Chief Minister. Added to the universal chant against joblessness and slow development, is the emotional let-down by the Sher-e-Kashmir. ''Humne to use jyada tv par hi dekha hai,'' says Nasir, a youth who has, nevertheless come to attend Omer''s rally. Not that the people here did not get their fair share. On demand, Ganderbal has been granted an SDM''s office and a Superintendent of Police, not to mention a college and 12 computer terminals. Omar is quick to point out that these were the things he brought in as Union Minister. ''You say kuch nahin diya and other constituencies say bahut favour kiya,'' he tells a 2000-strong rally in which many have been ferried from a neighbouring constituency. Of course, Omar will cruise through, though on a thinner vote margin than his father. But the road to the Assembly will be as uneven as the one to his constituency. Largely urban and mostly away from the Valley and its people, a suave Omar with one wife, two children and four dogs, is still mixing the right concoction to plough the rural mindsets. Wisely, he has chosen candour as his main vehicle to acceptance. He apologises, admits and promises with engaging honesty. He also reminds (Yeh school maine laya, who hospital meri den hai) and castigates (hamare office par patther mar kar PDP walon ne saabit kar diya hai ki who kis layak hain). To strike the ultimate chord, he struggles with Kashmir and straddles on Urdu, not hesitating to ask on the mike: ''Darwaze ko kya kehte hain,'' adding sheepishly: ''Thodi bahut galtiyan hoti hain Kashmir mein.'' That Omar''s father decided to put him through the test when NC is at its weakest, will, perhaps, be the acid grooming that will bring him long-term benefits. But as of now, Omar admits he is having adjustability problems. ''Campaigning is difficult but exhilarating. But choosing candidates on caste, religion and other such criteria is really taking my goat,'' he says earlier in the day before driving off for a boat rally on the other side of Dal. Fiddling with his non-existent fingernails and red golf cap carrying Farooq and his picture on the flap, the young Abdullah stresses hard and fast that he is not here to garner votes in the name of the dynasty. Not in the name of Sheikh Abdullah, not in the name of Farooq Abdullah but on my merit in comparison to other candidates, I ask for your mandate, he says. One somewhat tends to believe him as honesty is not a trait often associated with political campaigners. But in Ganderbal, there is hardened cynicism, fuelled by Omar''s youth and connectivity hassles. The rally, his second in the constituency in close succession, is not a patch on the response he got at Dal where he went in the morning to canvass for a candidate who has not done anything for the people there. A Shia pocket, Omar was wisely advised to ferry along Aga Roohullah, the spiritual head''s nephew, to show face. The gathering was so unexpectedly large and enthusiastic that one could see happy disbelief even on the NC brigades smiling face. Women, more than men, chanted, sang and cheered from a fleet of shikaras. Locals said this was the largest poll gathering Srinagar has had this election. But these were not NC activists. These were the Shia spiritual head''s dedicated subjects. And they had no qualms admitting that had he not asked them to support the candidate, they would not have been here. That Omar is learning, accepting and using these questionable self-help nitty-gritties of politics, is a sign of good future prospects. As is his impish humour. ''EVM ka ek connection goes to Delhi, another connection to Islamabad and yet another to Srinagar, he says, asking his electorate to press the button with caution. That Ganderbal needs confessions, promises and apologies from the third son of the first family is the biggest pointer to the party''s thinning life support. That the name and activity of the PDP and its pigmy candidate is uttered in anger time and again shows the threat of a hostile vote is not entirely ruled out by either Omar or his party. Good for him that he knows that on a maiden venture caution is the better part of valour. Good for him that the word thumping is rubbing alphabets with hung in the pocket edition of his newest lexicon on Kashmir.


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