‘Losing’ Manzil to ‘Misty’ Morning  

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Before the deluge (in fall) dampened NC’s poll spirits, the defeat (in spring) had already set off sombre mood inside the party headquarters. In between defeat and deluge, NC apparently forgot the big day when the party left downtown’s Mujahid Manzil for uptown’s Nawa-e-Subha two decades ago. Bilal Handoo recounts NC’s journey after losing ‘Manzil’

NC headquarters Nawa-e-Subha

NC headquarters Nawa-e-Subha

The headquarters of ruling National Conference (NC) is presently recovering from the impact of deluge. Located at banks of Jhelum near Srinagar’s Zero Bridge, Nawa-e-Subah (NeS) or the new morning looks ‘misty’ at the moment. The flood-affected party flags—bearing white plough on red cloth, have been spread over yard for sun-drying. Amid a sense of desolation, the red has gripped the grand old party’s hub—barely ten days before polls. On top of it, the mood inside NC’s nucleus seems sombre and subdued.

A word of mouth before polls is: a winter of discontentment has finally dawned over 7-decade-old political party, left ‘shattered’ this spring. The party supremo—the ‘invincible’ Abdullah had to taste first defeat of his political life at the age of 77. The fall of the ‘giant’ sent tremors down NC’s rank and file—who soon found themselves caught in a classic case of distress: enemy’s victory hurts more than a self defeat. NC’s pinch had apparently aggravated after Mufti’s band blew winning whistle over valley’s Lok Sabha triangle.

NC Headquarter in historic Nawa-e-Subha on fire on May 3, 2015 morning. (Pic By: Bilal Bahadur)

NC Headquarter in historic Nawa-e-Subha on fire on May 3, 2015 morning. (Pic By: Bilal Bahadur)

After defeat, NC’s bigwigs tasted their own medicine when they faced irked workers who castigated them for mishandling the ‘party of plough’. They say, tempers were never so irate inside NeS than the day when foot soldiers of Al’lebeyean were venting their venom in the face of Abdullah’s loss.

Amid the clamour, NC—perhaps in a fit of ‘decimated’ defeat, forgot the big day. The defeat of vintage Abdullah diluted the importance of 20th anniversary of NeS. In fact, it was this year—twenty years ago, when NC shifted its political base from historic Mujahid Manzil (MM) to NeS.

Old City’s MM remained hotbed of Kashmir politics for around seven decades. It also served as NC headquarters till 1994 when the structure was torched by ‘suspected militants’—forcing NC to shift its headquarters to NeS complex in the secured uptown.

Farooq Abdullah addressing a rally in 1996

Farooq Abdullah addressing a rally in 1996

Two years after shifting from MM to NeS, NC had their ‘much’ relieved moment. It was 1996, and New Delhi had finally convinced a ‘runaway’ Farooq Abdullah to return to state politics. (Abdullah had fled to England in 1989 after arms struggle broke out in valley. But before leaving, he dropped one last message for his supporters: “If you have someone in mind who ends up in jail, you can count me out. I like to play golf. What am I going to do in jail?”)

NC eventually won 1996 polls by an overwhelming majority—winning 57 of total 87 assembly seats. And soon the flamboyant son of Sheikh Abdullah became fourth time chief minister of state.

That victory was indeed a big moment for NC, says Dr Mustafa Kamal: “It marked the return of an elected government to state.” Besides, he says, the poll victory boosted the morale of NC workers—“thousands of whom were slaughtered, eliminated and intimidated”.

But the years that followed, it is said: mostly cheerless faces reigned supreme inside NeS than cheerful. When Vajpayee government discarded NC’s political cry—Autonomy, the mood inside NeS turned militant. And when third generation Abdullah lost his family seat from Ganderbal in 2002, a pall of gloom descended over NeS—leaving Farooq Abdullah visibly crestfallen with his hands on his head.

Omar Abdullah’s defeat against PDP’s Qazi Afzal was the first defeat for Abdullahs since their return to state politics in 1975. The defeat meant that for the first time, no Abdullah would be sitting inside state assembly since Sheikh signed the accord in mid-seventies.

This and more was happening inside NeS—until 2008.

NC Headquarter on Fire on Sunday morning. (Pic By: Bilal Bahadur)

NC Headquarter on Fire on Sunday morning – May 31, 2015. (Pic By: Bilal Bahadur)

At the fag end of that year, people fell in lines on the streets, simmering against establishment a month before polls. To cash the sentiments, Omar Abdullah—who had gained ‘sympathy’ after his ‘roaring’ speech inside Indian Parliament against Amarnath land lease, was seen apologising people of Ganderbal for his party’s past performance. With moist eyes he promised what many now call “moon” in exchange of votes.

When results were out, NeS burst in celebrations. “The party had to wait for that moment for a very long time,” continues Dr Kamal. “It was a big relief for all of us.”

And thus began an ‘epic’ rule of Omar Abdullah—that witnessed a double rape-murder of 2009, a mayhem of 2010, a PSA spank, an APSPA rant, the Wikileak’s torture expose’, a murder of Haji…

All these incidents had their impact with NC’s oldies-cum-loyals visiting NeS to convey their displeasure over governance. “I visited NeS multiple times with a barrage of grievances,” says GA Saloora, a former senior NC leader from Ganderbal. “But I was told: ‘Saloora, stop interfering in constituency matters.’ ” In protest, Saloora parted his ways with NC, claiming: “Omar is shrugging off old NC workers to keep the new lots in good humour.” (But Saloora shouldn’t feel disheartened—because Omar is now tweeting mann ki baat by terming some oldies in his party as “deadwood”.)

Still gripped with political torrent, NC headquarters figured in PDD’s defaulters list in February 2013, owing Rs 7.80 lakh electricity charges to power department. But the embarrassing revelation for ruling party died an anonymous death amid political din.

Nine months later, NC redefined its history when it heartily hosted some leaders of state Congress (a party once despised by NC and its cadres in Kashmir) inside NeS. It was for the first time that any Congress leader has stepped into NeS complex to a rousing reception. “You can call it the outcome of Rahul-Omar bonhomie,” Ali Mohammad Sagar later quipped.

A month after his defeat in parliamentary polls, Farooq Abdullah frequented NeS—chairing meetings and invoking confidence in his cadre-based party. In one such meeting, he appointed Ali Mohammad Sagar as NC’s new General Secretary (GS), saying former GS Sheikh Nazir’s health doesn’t allow him to continue. Sagar’s appointment was an attempt to “consolidate” the enviable organizational strength of the party.

The father-son duo inide Nawa-e-Subha

The father-son duo inside Nawa-e-Subha

Soon Abdullah was advocating a general amnesty for stone-pelters. His son’s sarkaar had rounded up around 600 youth in the run up to parliamentary polls in 2014, official figures reveal. Besides, over 1,300 youth across valley face charges of “rioting and stone pelting” since 2010.

And then suddenly the defeated Abdullah roared in his ‘den’: “Jis Kashmir Ko Khoon Se Seencha Woh Kashmir Humara Hai.” In that ‘adrenalin rush’ moment, he told his party men inside NeS that those who think that one poll debacle will dampen NC’s spirits should take a look at the pages of history: “Our spirits were not dampened when they sent Sheikh Sahib to prison for 24 years… Our spirits were not dampened when thousands of NC workers and hundreds of our leaders were killed in cold-blood…”

Abdullah’s speech had apparently pumped up his audience. Meanwhile, he continued: “We will rise from the ashes by scripting a comeback.” In that very speech he termed PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as trusted lieutenant of Sadiq—“who sold the special status of J&K to New Delhi”.

But unlike NeS, NC’s history linked with MM is often termed glorious than chequered. MM has been the cradle of NC’s politics since its foundation. Right from Sheikh Abdullah led ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement against the Dogra Maharaja to the launch of Plebiscite Front to the demands of right to self-determination by Kashmiris, MM always aided NC’s growth.

Mujahid Manzil, an erstwhile NC headquarters.

Mujahid Manzil, an erstwhile NC headquarter.

After Moulana Masoodi, Sheikh Abdullah and others collected door-to-door funds, MM or the house of mujahids was built with Rs 2300 in 1933. And soon it became a political bastion of Muslim Conference with Saleh Khan its custodian and Moulana Masoodi its supervisor.

After MM’s existence, an ordinary Kashmiri—then bearing the brunt of Dogra oppression had suddenly found a platform to raise his voice against the slavery. Apart from people, Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani and Jama’at leader Qari Saif-u-Din sung songs of freedom along with Sheikh Abdullah, Chowdary Ghulam Abbas and Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah inside MM.

But after Muslim Conference was named National Conference in 1939, MM became default NC bastion, besides legacy.

The stalwart leader of sub-continent Mohammed Ali Jinnah visited MM before the partition seeking Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. Nehru also came here after Jinnah to convince Sheikh that his destiny lay with India. Mahatma Gandhi too visited MM (on August 2, 1947) with his own “mission” followed by other “emissaries” including Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Abdul Gaffar Khan and other Indian front-ranking leaders.

It was from MM that the people of Jammu and Kashmir fought against autocratic rule in 1940s. Recorded events even claim: when Pakistan came into existence in 1947, Pakistani national flag was unfurled in MM for some time.

But it was inside MM where Sheikh Abdullah opposed Pakistan by calling for democracy in Kashmir and subsequently brought Kashmir into Indian mainstream. And this is where his son Farooq Abdullah came to protest against New Delhi’s “excesses” after his government was toppled in 1984.

Geelani once termed MM as ‘a legacy of Kashmiri Martyrs’. The annual July 13 procession on Martyrs Day in the memory of 1931 martyrs was taken out by NC from MM. However, after Sheikh Abdullah signed accord in 1975, there was a division in the political leadership following which many people say, NC lost the moral authority to own the place.

In early 90s, when Kashmir was under Governor’s rule, militants operated from MM for some time. And with majority had lost faith in NC, MM bore the brunt. The three-storied stone and timber structure of MM was gutted soon after taken over by paramilitary forces. The blazing fire devoured important letters, documents and photographs of a contentious phase of Kashmiri history along with Abdullah’s desk and Nehru’s chair.

Mujahid Manzil

Gutted Mujahid Manzil

Presently NC’s past glory has been reduced into a half-burnt wooden structure (with smoked walls), and is occupied by paramilitary forces.

“My father used to listen people’s grievances at Mujahid Manzil after every Friday prayers,” Farooq Abdullah once said. “I want to revive the process.” In the summer of 2012, Omar Abdullah echoed the same wish: “It is my wish that we have Friday meetings again at Mujahid Manzil where Sheikh Sahib initiated this culture into our party.” But the father-son duo couldn’t move beyond lip-service to resume Sheikh’s aura at MM. As their wish lingers on, NC has now reached on the cusp of losing power.

With MM gutted and NeS sombre, NC appears “off-colour” well before polls. Perhaps disobeying elder’s advice had its costs—“people’s hearts can be won only by love, justice, truthfulness and sincerity,” Omar apparently didn’t heed to this ‘last testament’ of his grandpa during his six years rule over state—“and not with subsidized rice, army and offering largesse.”

But many aren’t surprised over the cadre-based party’s “confidence crash”—because, they believe: what goes around comes around!

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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