At 50, Omar Relives Grandpa’s Legacy

by Tasavur Mushtaq

SRINAGAR: The year 2020- almost six and a half decades later- political cycle seems to have completed for Kashmir’s powerful Abdullah family. Family, which governed the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir for most of the post-1947 era, managed its oldest political party for decades and produced one prime minister and three chief ministers from three generations. However, post-August 5, the contours of the political landscape have changed completely. The erstwhile chief executive of the erstwhile state continues to be confined within the four walls of designated sub-jails, few kilometres away from each other.

Golden Jubilee

March 10 2020 – as Omar Abdullah, the scion of Abdullah family and former Chief Minister turned 50, the fanfare and celebrations were missing. Instead, Omar had to spend his special day at sub-jail, Hari Niwas in seclusion. Detained for the last over seven months, incarcerated Omar, the poster boy of NDA-led government has grown a long salt and pepper beard.

National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah along with senior party leaders offer prayers at the grave of party founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on his 113th birth anniversary on December 5, 2013, in Srinagar. Kl Image by Bilal Bahadur

Barring few family members who were allowed to see him in the afternoon, Omar had a quiet day, unlike the past when even Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the people who used to wish him on the day.

Away from social media personally, his powerful tool to communicate, his twitter handle on Tuesday saw a message from his sister Sara Abdullah Pilot who said she would be temporarily managing the account.

“Temporarily looked after by Sara Abdullah Pilot to keep track of my brother’s mentions & DMs. Will restore the a/c to its original owner as soon as he’s out.” the bio on Omar’s account reads.

“Violence will only play into the hands of those who do not have the best interests of the state in mind. This wasn’t the India J&K acceded to but I’m not quite ready to give up hope yet. Let calm heads prevail. God be with you all,” was one among the last tweets of Omar before being detained on August 5.

Lasting Legacy

Incarceration of Omar led memory lanes back to mid-fifties. It was 1955 when Omar’s grandfather and Kashmir’s most powerful leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had a similar fate. Sheikh like Omar was under detention on his 50th birthday.

Turning 50 In Jail, It Is Omar’s Birthday

Known as Sher-e-Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah was accused of conspiring against the state and was arrested in the ‘Kashmir conspiracy case’. He was jailed for eleven years. Earlier also Sheikh, who played a central role in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir and was appointed as the head of the government thrice in his lifetime was sent to three-year imprisonment for launching the quit Kashmir movement against Hari Singh.

Circles Coincide

Arrested in anticipation of bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories and stripping its special status, Omar was taken to Hari Niwas, a palace with a chequered history. Responding to the development, Dr Karan Singh remarked in an interview that “the palace wherefrom Sheikh Abdullah made my grandfather leave Kashmir is now where his grandson is being held.”

A rare photograph showing Sheikh M Abdullah in the Royal Palace at Srinagar in late 1947.
A rare photograph showing Sheikh M Abdullah in the Royal Palace at Srinagar in late 1947.

Interestingly, as Omar and his father, Dr Farooq Abdullah was booked under the stringent Public Safety Act, it is the law enacted in the erstwhile state by Sheikh Abdullah as Chief Minister in 1978.

Disowning Devoted

Whenever the political wave in Jammu and Kashmir is talked about, Sheikh Abdullah is at the centre stage. A prominent figure and a crowd puller, Sheikh’s aura is unmatched. In his memoirs, Aatish-e-Chinar, the Sheikh recalled that during the talks Nehru exclaimed, “Sheikh sahib if you do not stand with us shoulder to shoulder, we shall cast a chain of gold around your neck. The Sheikh looked at him and said smilingly, but don’t do that ever because you will thereby have to wash your hands of Kashmir.”

However, Delhi had its own plan. Booked under the ‘Kashmir Conspiracy’ case and replaced by his deputy Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad, Delhi ensured its will.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad with Sardar Patel

“Whenever New Delhi feels a leader in Kashmir is getting too big for his shoes, it employs Machiavellian methods to cut him to size,” Mir Qasim who was the chief minister of Kashmir (1971-1975) and had supported the coup of 1953 wrote in 1992.

Later Sheikh while acceding to the terms of Delhi made a comeback in 1975 after Indira-Sheikh accord.

Once in awe and respect, successive governments in Delhi would swear by Sheikh and eulogize his devotion to strengthening the pillars of secularism and democracy in J&K. However, on December 5, 2019, his birth anniversary of Sheikh, his graveyard in Naseem Bagh wore a deserted look. Otherwise a day of gathering from decades, huge contingent of security personnel were seen guarding the grave to prevent people from assembling. While his son and grandson were also not present to pay the tributes, it was the first time ever that special prayers weren’t allowed on his birth anniversary. Contrary, the day was removed from the holiday list and subsequently his name is being dropped one by one from the places synonymous to his existence.

Seems with the abrogation of article 370, Sheikh and his legacy has been abandoned by Delhi, completely.

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