WHERE HAS OMAR ABDULLAH ECLIPSED?
In 2008, when Omar Abdullah became the youngest Chief Minister of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, taking over the mantle from senior PDP and Congress leaders, Mufti Mohammad Syed & Ghulam Nabi Azad respectively, most national and international magazines showed optimism, vigor and hope in what they described as a youthful, progressive, dynamic Muslim scion of Kashmir’s illustrious Abdullah dynasty, who could herald and lead Kashmir’s bruised and battered people out of the violence and despair of 1990s into an era of modernity, peace and reconciliation. However, the political legacy that Omar Abdullah was to eventually lay down, first as the Chief Minister of J&K and then as the leader of the largest opposition party in J&K has proved to be “much ado about nothing”. But the more serious question that reckons to be asked is that given the precarious condition in which National Conference finds itself today, why is Mr. Omar Abdullah largely conspicuous by his absence from an otherwise extremely hectic political scene of Kashmir?
Since, the election schedule for the current Lok Sabha was announced, leaders of political parties of J&K have gone into an over drive with politicking despite the continuing grim security situation. Even as North Kashmir polled in over 35% votes; Central Kashmir saw over 15% of voting and even the first phase of South Kashmir witnessed nearly 14% of voting while the 2nd phase saw 10.3 voter turnout, Kashmir valley has been abuzz with top, middle and lower level leadership of all political parties campaigning and canvasing for their candidates and yet amidst all this Omar Abdullah, who is currently serving as the Vice President of NC has largely kept himself away from grass roots politics of political campaigning, meeting electorate, giving speech in rallies and political gathering etc., keeping himself politically “active” only on his twitter handle. This is something perplexing for a party that is right now facing its worst existential crisis.
The National Conference party, which has been continuously and consistently being decimated in all parts of J&K state including Northern and Southern parts of Kashmir valley since 2002, has in fact been reduced to a status of “sub regional” party of Central Kashmir only. Omar Abdullah himself has not dared to fight any election from North and South Kashmir and even in Central Kashmir, he has personally seen more election defeat than any of his family member ever did.
And yet, if his performance since 2014 elections is analyzed, when he badly lost from Sonawar and barely managed to win Beerwah seat, not only has he failed miserably as a leader of the opposition to politically turn the Kashmiri public anger and discontent over the collapsed BJP – PDP coalition government into an advantage for the National Conference party, but his lack of enthusiasm and lackadaisical attitude in reaching out to Kashmiri masses and his own party workers is turning him into an “accidental leader”, who is failing miserably to inspire the people of Kashmir as well as his own party cadre.
Ironically, in the absence of more “active” political engagement by Omar Abdullah, the entire responsibility of political campaigning on behalf of the National Conference has fallen upon Mr. Farooq Abdullah, who despite his over 80 years of age, continues to be far more active in political campaigns both in Kashmir as well as in Kolkata and Hyderabad (as part of Mamta Banerjee led “Maha Gathbandhan”). While Mr. Farooq Abdullah continues with his non serious and theatrical style of talking about Article 370, JKLF ban, Yasin Malik arrest etc., on which no one in Kashmir valley takes him seriously, Mr. Omar Abdullah largely “expresses” himself from the safety and comfort of twitter in his posh Gupkar road palatial bungalow or if at all, he would only attend select few political gatherings in residences of his close aides or party workers.
It is difficult to say as to, why has Omar Abdullah chosen to remain politically low profile at a time, when electoral political scene in Kashmir is increasingly becoming over crowded. Is it because Omar Abdullah prefers cozy comfort of elitist and luxurious life style rather than dealing with heat and dust of political campaigning? Is it because he feels that the vintage formula of the National Conference party cultivating few dedicated electorate communities like Gujjar & Bakarwals of Kangan; a section of Shias of Budgam and few pocket borrows of NC’s second tier leaders like Salman Sagar, Aga Rohullah and Akbar Lone will simply “deliver” him the seat of MLA and perhaps good enough seats to once again form the government with the help of Congress and get the coveted seat of the Chief Minister of J&K state. Either which way, we can only guess whether it is the “over confidence” of once again “easily” becoming the CM or the “disinterest” in reaching out to masses that defines Mr. Omar Abdullah’s conspicuous absence from the active political scene in Kashmir valley.
It is interesting to note that Mr. Omar Abdullah’s “eclipse” comes at a time, when PDP appears to be on a track for revival with its core Jamat base thawing its anger towards PDP’s alliance with the BJP and appears to be returning to PDP fold once again. Sajad Lone’s People Conference also appears to have solidified its presence in North Kashmir and even BJP has managed high octane media campaign for its Srinagar Lok Sabha candidate. Ironically, Mr. Ram Madhav of BJP appears to have had more pubic campaigns in restive South Kashmir than what perhaps Mr. Omar Abdullah has done. And not to forget that the next assembly election for J&K would additionally witness competition from Shah Faesal’s newly launched party that appears to be fast gaining ground in all parts of J&K.
Therefore, under these conditions, the “eclipse” of Mr. Omar Abdullah is not only perplexing but it may very well prove to be fatal for the National Conference, which cannot sustain itself only on the tired and worn out “charisma” of Farooq Abdullah Sahab.
The writer is a Political Activist and aspiring Politician can be reached @ [email protected]