A Day With Omar Abdullah

by Masood Hussain

SRINAGAR: That the Lok Sabha does not matter much to Jammu and Kashmir with only six berths in a huge house is a fact known for decades. But there are areas where people have taken the exercise quite seriously as if it is an assembly election.

Former chief minister of J&K and Lok Sabha Polls: NC vice president Omar Abdullah addressing a mammoth gathering at Naidkhai Sonawari on April 9, 2019.

Accompanying Omar Abdullah to his major Tuesday rally in Naidkhie in north Kashmir suggested the people are as involved in this Lok Sabha election as they possibly would be in any assembly poll, if and when, they take place.

Omar is state’s former Chief Minister and now Vice President of the National Conference. He is his party’s star campaigner who usually makes news for the party, though more on social media. His day started with a group of political workers from a city periphery joining his party. It was a routine garland exchange, a cup of Kehwa and then the hectic day started.

Driving in the middle of a small cavalcade with his team – Shami Oberoi, Nasir Aslam Wani, Tanvir Sadiq, and many others, Omar’s security detail had to make a serious effort to pave the way as a huge BSF convoy in private trucks was on the move up north.

But the situation did not change much. Once the cavalcade landed on the road to Hajin, his own party convoys were waiting. After Mohammad Akbar Lone, his party candidate and the former speaker joined him midway, there were various halts when workers interrupted and made him shake hands with them. Those were the most panicky scenes for his security detail.

Given their own protocol, they are supposed to avoid any other vehicle or a bike moving even closer to Omar’s vehicle. As former Chief Minister, Omar is protected by the special service group (SSG) with an additional ITBP line. The entire track was secured by the paramilitary and the police, as is the routine during polls. The area witnessed a series of gun battles in recent past.

What was different in the ‘welcome’ was a long line of buses and cars, filled with people to the brim. From Hajin onwards, the residents, at least a good section of them, were on the road and waving towards the speeding cavalcade.

In the vast lawns of a field opposite an army garrison, there were thousands of chairs and a lot of people. Given the post-militancy security system, the people are kept at a distance and usually a thick layer of concertina wires separates audience from the stage. Of late, the security wing is even installing CCTVs which are being monitored by specialists real time from a vehicle. There were men and women and all of them were visibly involved. A section of them, apparently the followers of Lone’s son, Hilal, were hyperactive and dancing to the new set of slogans:

Dushaman Zainyeah?
Tim Cheneh Kathie
Aes Chikk Patie,
Sher Ha Aou

(Will the opposition win? / It is not possible / (because) we are chasing them / Lion has come)

Fascinated by the lion, they even were shouting that Hilal is a tiger. Even Omar noticed and talked about it.

It took an effort to get them calm their nerves. They were happier when Omar announced that after Lone Sr will be elected to the Lok Sabha, Hilal, his son, will be “adjusted”. It was responded well and seen as a mandate for him in the assembly polls.

There were brief speeches by some leaders. Nasir Sogami, the provincial head of the party talked about the current discourse and then said there is an apple around (a reference to Sajjad Lone’s election symbol). “Do you know it has an inherent scab on it?” he said, asking people, “Will you eat it?”

The situation has made Kashmiri parties mere reactionaries. Seemingly it has helped NC to revive its age-old slogan:

“Majeh Hound Izaat
Treh Hath Sateth

(Mother’s honour – Article 370).

Omar’s Speech

Omar started his speech by showering praises on Mohammad Akbar Lone for his impressive battle against the Ikhwanis, the counter-insurgent forces of 1990. “He fought against odds and detailing his bravado would fill many books,” Omar said. He did it from 1990 to 1996 with your support and continued his battle. “He is so brave that his recent bravery (a reference to his statement on Pakistan) even gave me and Dr Farooq a shock,” Omar said while talking about Lone, the former speaker who was made famous by his notorious finger.

Now, this brave man has to go to the Parliament of India and fight the forces keen to destroy our identity, Omar shifted to the focus of his speech. Neither development nor prosperity, it was all about the two key articles of the constitution of India: Article 370 and Article 35A. He said it is an existential issue. “We had 35A because we wanted to have land to the tiller,” Omar thundered, “If it is not around, we may work on the fields but may lose the ownership. It will take Kashmir back to the miseries of pre-1947 when we tilled the fields owned by others.”

Omar said state’s state subject laws were converted into Article 35A and it helped enforced the land to tiller intervention that revolutionised Kashmir. “Had it not happened, Kashmir peasants would not be different from the farmers in India who are committing suicides,” Omar insisted. He said rights over land for the state subjects are protected in many states across India but the Jammu and Kashmir is being singled out. “Is it because Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim majority state?” he asked.

Insisting that BJP has systematically evolved its plan of doing away with the special position that links both, Kashmir’s identity and the fate of future generations. Omar said it started with Arun Jaitley’s statement that was followed by BJP president Amit Shah’s announcement and finally the Prime Minister came to release a manifesto insisting on the abrogation of the two articles. “Every time, NC was out of power, the erosions took place,” Omar said. “It happened on GST in which we lost our authority to impose taxes or to offer concessions.” He gave a common instance of the mobile recharge that cuts 18 per cent on the source.

Omar said Muftis’ could not save their own honour when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly rebuffed Mufti Sayeed for suggesting talks with Pakistan. He said he could not spear five minutes to inquire about the welfare of Mufti Sayeed when he was admitted in AIIMS. “Still she made a government with them,” he said.

Mirwaiz Mentioned

The most interesting part of Omar’s speech was the summoning of Mirwaiz Umer Farooq to Delhi. “He is our religious leader and yesterday he was interrogated by NIA for nine hours and was asked to come again today,” Omar said. “Now Mehbooba is accusing me of this but ask her when the FIR in which our religious leader was summoned was lodged – it was in 2017 when she was the Chief Minister.”

Omar said that if the Jammu and Kashmir problem is about two and a half districts as Prime Minister has recently said then why the Highway is blocked for nine districts for two days a week. “Why have we been left to the mercy of people who are issuing orders while sitting in Jammu,” Omar asked. “We will have to change all this and send somebody to Parliament who will not say that Kashmir youth are killing themselves for salwar kameez.”

This broke the crowd in yet another frenzy as they discovered the very old slogan:

Yen Haz Soun Gatchi Malalai,
Chai Chenai Vote Karie Hawalie

(Please do not take it otherwise/ we will vote for you before our breakfast)

With his speech, the function was over. As crowds thinned, the VVIPs started being escorted out by the nervous security detail. In such a situation, they create a human chain around the protected person, a standard security protocol.

The Lunch

Not far away from the venue of the meeting, a typical political working lunch was ready to be served – Tscuchi Maaz, the Kashmiri high tea.

Once Omar sanitised his hands, he was carrying his own lunch with him – it was completely vegetarian. In fact, his entire team also carried their tiffins along with. While guests started tasting the kebabs, Rougan Josh and Ristas, Omar managed with his Gajjar Mouli with a thick paste and perhaps Kewha.

Minutes later, the whistling by cops indicated the departure through blooming apple orchards on a smooth road running on the banks of Jhelum. The huge dark mass of water in the mighty river seemed indicative of the situation in which a visibly disempowered political class finds itself, these days.

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