Omar's Sorry Six Years As Kashmir CM: Why The NC Has Cause To Worry

28 July 2014

Srinagar: The spotlight is back on Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah after the recent announcement that the Congress and National Conference would end their six-year alliance in the state, and both parties would contest the coming assembly polls separately. But for Abdullah, the fight is now two pronged- recovering from the defeat in the the Lok Sabha elections which saw the Congress-NC alliance routed and now additionally, having to go it alone. What's more, the anti-incumbency wave evident in the Lok Sabha poll results was not just against the UPA - it was also against the Abdullahs. The fact that Farooq Abdullah lost an election for the first ever time from his home constituency of Srinagar, a long time family bastion, would be playing on the beleaguered chief minister's mind as Assembly elections approach, no doubt. Omar's troubles began long ago, as a report in The Indian Express says, going back to the Shopian incident when, in May 2009, bodies of two women were found from a river stream near the village. The discovery of the bodies sparked off accusations of rape and murder against the security forces, bringing the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act back into focus. 'When accused of a cover-up by the PDP and separatists, Omar declared that the two women had died of drowning while simultaneously ordering a probe. The public distrust of Omar's government kept growing,' says the Express report. The incident became a reminder of the promise Omar had made during his election campaign-the repeal of AFSPA, a long standing bone of contention between the Centre and residents of the state. Abdullah settled for seeking an amendment but it did him no favours. The report in the Indian Express says: 'Over his six years in power, Omar's failure to get any change on AFSPA would become a metaphor for his inability to stand up to New Delhi where his party's coalition partner Congress led the UPA government and where Rahul Gandhi was considered a friend of his.' Shopian was just the beginning of Omar's troubles. It was after the December 2012 Delhi gang rape that Omar admitted to his next folly. The Centre's initial response to protests following the December 16 gangrape had been mystifying, and Abdullah had said at the time: 'I made the mistake of not being seen or heard in the summer of 2010 when the trouble first started. I wish my mistake had been learnt from.' The 2010 civil unrest in Kashmir was Abdullah's next big crisis after Shopian, but he failed to shine. In a report on Firstpost after the Lok Sabha debacle, Sameer Yasir wrote: 'Minutes after the Lok Sabha elections results were declared, the Chief Minister called a press conference and said the fault, among other things, probably lies in the style of his campaigning as the PDP had successfully made the 2010 killings and the hanging of Afzal Guru the cornerstone of their campaign.' The 2010 unrest lasted five months, protests beginning after the killing of a 17-year-old youth but eventually claiming over a 100 lives. According to a report in The Hindustan Times, nearly 120 people died in the protests, which stopped only after leaders from Delhi mollified angry protesters, as many termed it the inability of the Abdullah government to connect with the youth. By 2013, Abdullah's troubles had multiplied-for the second time under his leadership the state was practically shut down following the hanging of Afzal Guru, accused in the December 2001 attack on Parliament. Guru was, in Kashmir, widely seen as innocent. Even as protests broke out across the state, the government blocked SMS services and prevented the outpouring of anger unlike the last time. But the dissatisfaction with the NC-led government, particularly Omar, only grew. Recent reports suggest that the NC, scalded after Farooq Abdullah's rout in the Lok Sabha polls, is scurrying to find a safe seat for Abdullah. An MLA from Ganderbal, the party has not been in favour of Abdullah running for polls from there. While there have been no indications of where the party would prefer Abdullah to contest from, the CM has rubbished reports that any such idea has been discussed. Omar's political career will take a serious beating if the anti-incumbency results in him losing from Ganderbal. Located in central Kashmir, the constituency has been represented by three generations of the Abdullah family-Abdullah's grandfather and founder of the NC Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah won from there 1974, as did Abdullah's father Farooq. The J&K CM's defeat in 2002 to PDP leader Qazi Mohammad Afzal was the only time the family has lot from Ganderbal. The CM won't be wanting a repeat of that. And that could be his primary concern right now, even more critical than the eventual outcome for the NC.