In the heads and tails analysis of the recent reshuffle in coalition government’s ministerial council, Omar Abdullah’s action of immense implications was missed by most. By sending his two trusted lieutenants to man the party, the de-facto boss wants to be the de-jure controller of Kashmir’s oldest political party now, R S Gull reports
As 10 new faces were baptized to office for rest of the incumbent government’s term last week, everybody skipped Omar’s master stroke. He took over National Conference (NC) and begun affecting a generational shift, something that was being politely resisted for all these years.
In Omar’s brief but interesting political career, it is the third milestone. The first was on June 23, 2002 when party’s plenary session ratified the working committee decision of transferring power to the new generation, enabling it to face ‘new challenges of the new century’ and make ‘Naya Kashmir’ an immortal philosophy. The event at a highly secured Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium, not far away from Gupkar, was quite different from the August 21, 1981 event when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah crowned Dr Farooq Abdullah as his successor as tens of thousands cheered in the sprawling Iqbal Park.
The next watershed event was in December 2008 when Omar forced his choice over his party that he should run the government and become the Chief Minister. His mother vociferously supported the idea and Omar was sworn in on January 5, 2009 at Jammu.
Last week Omar came out with his most intelligent move when he relieved his two buddies, functioning as his left and right hands since 2002 – Devinder Singh Rana and Nasir Aslam Sogami – and sent them as heads of the party at the provincial level in Jammu and Srinagar. This marks the beginning of a major change in the NC that will dictate its future. Omar finally is keen to control the party of which he already is the face.
The impact of the move got initially buried in the ruckus that Sogami-Rana combine was out of the civil secretariat and that Rather-Sagar combine has survived the test. Political pundits now understand the larger reality that the two men with strong party status will still dominate the decision-making while being out of the civil secretariat.
“Earlier, we had only one ruler who never took oath of office and ran the government on verbal commands without signing even a single chit,” admitted a bureaucrat. “Now we have two!”
Chief Minister clearly said that the move was futuristic, especially with the 2014 elections in mind. “It was the most difficult task to carry out changes in the government as well as the party but I struck a good balance between the requirement of party and the government,” Omar said the day he formally installed Rana. “The prime objective behind effecting reshuffle was to ensure that party affairs as well as administrative matters of the government are attended to with equal focus and attention.”
The graph is clear. Party’s long time secretary general and literal custodian, Shiekh Nazir, is not doing well for a long time. He was operated upon and is still not all right, notwithstanding his plebiscite demand he made in Nawa-e-Subh complex. Sheikh Nazir is Sheikh Abdullah’s nephew.
Omar and his comrades are unhappy with his uncle Dr Mustafa Kamal. Appointed additional secretary general and spokesman, Kamal was sacked for being historically correct but politically wrong. His status was restored, later. Omar has publicly expressed his reservations over his uncle’s “statesmanship”. Kamal and Sheikh have lived lives of celibacy and lack ‘heir apperent’s’.
Rana-Sogami combine will prevent any further escalation of anti-Congress diatribe and essentially rise the ranks and may end up becoming the first non-family managers of Kashmirs’ first family. In absence of brothers and cousins (for Omar), history might get created one day!
Analysts and political commentators are reacting on expected lines. “Omar is following the Rahul Gandhi model,” says commentator Mohammad Sayeed Malik. “Rahul started getting the younger faces in cabinet and in party, so is Omar.”
Malik said the move marks a change. “Omar enjoys de-facto control over the party as he is the working president. Now with his buddies in charge of the party, he is in de-jure control.”
Speaker in last coalition, this Azad loyalist was holding Housing, Urban Development, local bodies and is now school education minister, perhaps state’s first ever education minister who is just a matriculate.
Dubbed as leader of “Congress faction that Omer lead”, Taj, off late was closer to Azad. Irrigation Ministry in which he did a bit of noisy but successful innovation is now medical Education, Sports and Youth Services minister. He swapped his job with fellow Congressman Sham Lal Sharma, state’s first Dawasaaz who ran health ministry “successfully”.
A powerful Congressman was stripped of tourism portfolio and given Urban Development and Urban Local Bodies. He was accused of being partisan in helping tourism grow.
Powerful in his Gandhinagar constituency, the revenue minister was increasingly being accused of having “an agenda” so his revenue portfolio was given to MoS Aijaz A Khan. He is now housing, horticulture and culture minister.