How Did Media Comment On Omar Breaking His Year-Long Silence?

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SRINAGAR: Former Chief Minister and Vice President of Kashmir’s oldest political party, the National Conference, Omar Abdullah broke his year-long silence by writing an op-ed in The Indian Express. A day later, the same newspaper published his detailed interview.

Omar’s writing or his statements were hugely reacted and responded within and outside his party. So far, three newspapers have reacted to the development editorially. Here are the two editorials:

NC leader and former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah outside the gate of the Hari Niwas Palace after being set free after eight months.

Omar Abdullah Opens The Door
Restoring statehood can revive the political process in J&K
The Hindustan Times
Delhi
July 28, 2020

For the first time since the momentous constitutional changes in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on August 5 last year, former chief minister of the erstwhile state, and National Conference (NC) leader, Omar Abdullah, who was detained for eight months, has spoken out. Writing in The Indian Express, he expressed his opposition to the effective nullification of Article 370, and the revocation of J&K’s special status.

But the key takeaway from Mr Abdullah’s piece is not his opposition to the change in the special status of J&K — that is to be expected, and that point of view can be debated. The key takeaway is his more fierce opposition to the decision to convert the state into a Union Territory (UT) and a categorical declaration that “while J&K remains a UT”, he — and by extension, the NC — would not contest assembly elections. While this may sound extreme, Mr Abdullah has actually opened the door for a political understanding which can revive the political process in J&K. It is instructive that Mr Abdullah neither made the restoration of Article 370 or the re-merger of J&K and Ladakh his precondition. Both these would have been far more difficult to achieve. Article 370 is history and no government in New Delhi will bring back the constitutional provision effectively. A separate administrative unit of Ladakh is also, now, firmly etched on the map and the stand-off at the Line of Actual Control with China has only cemented New Delhi’s determination to have direct control over the region.

By asking for the restoration of statehood, while opposing the other changes, Mr Abdullah has effectively given room to Delhi to begin a process of reconciliation. Do remember that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation, and home minister Amit Shah, on the floor of the House, said that the revocation of statehood is temporary, and when circumstances become conducive, it could be reversed. It is time for Delhi to begin a dialogue with Mr Abdullah, release Mehbooba Mufti and start a conversation with her too, and initiate a time-bound process for the restoration of statehood. Promising a more empowered assembly and chief minister, in line with other states of the Union, can possibly result in popular and legitimate elections, help win over the Kashmiri street, empower pro-India mainstream forces, deepen democracy in J&K, weaken Pakistan’s propaganda, and neutralise international concerns. Mr Abdullah has opened the door; the onus now lies on Delhi.

No, Mr Abdullah, Not All In Opposition Betrayed J&K
Mainstream parties in Kashmir might find the going tough after New Delhi’s failure to keep its side of the deal on Article 370
The Asian Age
Delhi
July 29, 2020

In a major newspaper interview that became available on Monday, his first since cataclysmic constitutional changes were carried out in respect of J&K by the Narendra Modi government on August 5 last year, former J&K chief minister and National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah has spoken of several key matters among them the possible re-working of his party’s “autonomy” platform, and his justified dismay (he called it “betrayal”) at the country’s Opposition parties for backing the Modi government’s move to not just end J&K’s erstwhile autonomy but also for breaking up the former state into two Union Territories.

On both counts, it would appear that the NC leader has reflected deeply. Even so, we invite him to take heart from the fact that many entities and constituencies in the country, including important sections of the political class even if they are not currently substantial in parliamentary number terms, have an appreciation of the events of August 5 last that are not dissimilar to his own.

This is not unimportant as a fact unto itself. Since Mr Abdullah expresses the resolve to carry on a fight against the unconstitutional events “politically, democratically and legally”, he will find he will not be short of allies, especially on the political and intellectual side.

How Media Commented On Omar Abdullah’s Release?

With the RSS-BJP cohorts renewing the catchy and populist slogan of the so-called full integration of J&K with the rest of India, their battle cry of 70 years has found a wider communal echo than when they were not in power.

Many smaller regional parties (though by no means all, as DMK and Trinamul Congress have shown) found this hard to resist on account of perceived electoral compulsions.

The much-weakened Congress, still BJP’s principal opponent, had a small group of waverers (and they appear to be playing a pro-BJP hand from within), but the party’s working committee has taken a healthy stand. Mr Abdullah would be wise to factor all of this in.

Clearly, at the present juncture, it would seem that mainstream parties in Kashmir might find the going tough after New Delhi’s failure to keep its side of the deal on Article 370 and 35-A, and its dishonouring of solemn commitments produced by the Constituent Assembly.

It is good Mr Abdullah is conscious of this. But the ebb and flow of life have a habit of throwing up surprises.

Even as mainstream parties in Kashmir seemed to be facing an existential crisis, their principal ideological opponent, the religious right strongly backed by Pakistan, has also been pushed on the back foot by the mysterious developments that have hit the camp led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Although there may be a certain “sentiment” in Kashmir (to which Mr Abdullah alludes), this is theoretically beyond the India-Pakistan binary. Politicians live in the real world.

The best thing that Mr Abdullah’s party can do to safeguard Kashmir’s interests and its own is to eschew insularity and seek to make common cause in the electoral arena with all who question the majoritarian basis advanced by the current dispensation in Delhi.

Omar’s Choice
NC leader acknowledges constraints August 5 decision casts on mainstream politics in Kashmir – and challenge ahead
The Indian Express
Delhi
July 30, 2020

The National Conference will fight it out legally, but its top leader says that he is not going to fool people into believing that J&K’s special status could be brought back.

In an extraordinarily candid and reflective interview and a signed article in The Indian Express, breaking his silence since his detention last year, the former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdullah, spoke of the “betrayal” of August 5, 2019, how it had destroyed the bridge between a mainstream party like the National Conference and the Centre, and reduced such parties, seen to have carried the can for Delhi, into “elements of ridicule”. He expressed doubt about whether there was any more space or scope for mainstream parties in Kashmir — “finding a political plank at this point is not going to be the easiest thing”. His own politics has become “a lot more angry and resentful” and “less trusting”, he said. But Abdullah, who was detained on the day the Centre stripped the state of its special status and bifurcated it into two union territories and released six months later, also appears to have come to terms with the fact that the decisions of that fateful August day are here to stay. He described his state of mind as somewhere between “pessimism and realism”, but it is his suggestion that it may be pointless to demand a rolling back of the decision on Article 370 that is politically significant.

The National Conference will fight it out legally, but its top leader says that he is not going to fool people into believing that J&K’s special status could be brought back. This and his statement, that he would not contest elections in J&K until statehood has been restored — “then we’ll go ahead from there” — have sparked some outrage in the Valley, where these remarks are being seen as an abdication by the main regional party of Kashmir from its commitment to the August 4 Gupkar Declaration. Arrived at between the leaders of all J&K parties, it said that they would remain “united in their resolve to protect and defend identity, autonomy and special status of the JK State against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever”.

Abdullah was careful to draw a thick line between the NC and Kashmiri separatism, asserting that while the experiences of the last year had made him distrustful of the Centre, and “Delhi did its damnedest to equate us with separatists”, he was not going to come out of detention “espousing a political line that I don’t believe in, because it might be popular or it might be favourable at the time”; he would not incite violent protests that end up taking the lives of more people, he said. Even as he has declared he will not participate in the electoral process of a Union Territory, he has underlined his commitment to the democratic processes. Going ahead, for him and for other politicians of the mainstream in Kashmir, the challenge, as he has admitted, will be to find the next steps in a politically denuded landscape — where the persistence of a political vacuum has always been fraught with the danger of hardliners rushing in.

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