September 2002 News

Omar admits he may fall short of majority

29 September 2002
The Asian Age

Srinagar: As campaigning for the third phase of polling in Jammu and Kashmir came to an end on Sunday, so did some of the bluster and the rhetoric. In a candid interview with The Asian Age, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah admitted for the first time that his party perhaps would not get a majority in the 87-member Assembly on its own steam. “The worst-case scenario is that we will touch only about 40 and we need 44 for a simple majority. If that happens, I will not be the first to stake the claim,” he said, adding, “I have a sadistic side and I’ll see how the People’s Democratic Party and the Congress will cobble together a government.” Altogether 16 constituencies in Anantnag and Pulwama are set to go to the polls on Tuesday, and Mr Omar Abdullah is worried but realistic. He has started working on what he calls the agenda for the first 100 days in government, with the knowledge that he may well require the support of Independent candidates because the worst-case scenario may well be a possibility. “The post of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister is the most difficult office in India, but I am here willingly and not on some punishment posting,” he says. Candid about the fact that he has nowhere else to go, now that he, the BJP and other NDA allies have openly criticised each other in public meetings, Mr Abdullah is chalking out a plan for the future. His first three priorities are to attend to poll promises like changing the recruitment policy and streamlining the functioning of the Special Operations Group. He also plans to make the government not just transparent, but accountable. Other priorities are to strengthen the Human Rights Commission in order to bring down the grievances of the alienated Kashmiri and to spruce up the local administration for, as he put it, “the government needs political accountability. Officers have been their own bosses for too long.” These polls have been a tightrope walk for the younger Abdullah as the polls took him into the thick of state politics where the anti-incumbency factor hit him with force. Mr Omar Abdullah tried to reach out to the people by admitting that the National Conference government had made mistakes in the past six years. He hinted at corruption and also said unlike in the previous Assembly in which elected representatives seldom went back to their constituencies, he would make it mandatory for them to file monthly reports on what problems their respective electorates were facing, be it a burnt transmitter, hospitals without doctors or schools without teachers. He tried to contend with the anti-Farooq factor by not sharing the same platform with his father too often, and by also saying that he was a different person with a different style. It is obvious to those who were willing to see that his rallies had more posters displaying pictures of his grandfather Sheikh Abdullah, rather than of his father Farooq Abdullah. Asked if he would have spent Rs 40 crores building a golf course, an issue that his father has been much criticised for, he said: “Well, I would have spent money on tourism infrastructure. We are two distinct individuals from two different generations.” The electorate knows what Dr Farooq Abdullah is all about. They saw him in power for the last six years. They are unsure about his son Omar, and as one voter in Anantnag put it, “After Sheikh saab we gave Farooq a chance, but he never bothered about us.” Mr Omar Abdullah is pragmatic enough to have sensed their apathy and perhaps knows that he is batting on a difficult pitch. One that may well see him below the half-way mark.


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