by Khursheed Wani
Last week parts of capital Srinagar woke up to an unusual sight and activity after a considerable time. Many areas in the civil lines witnessed red buntings hovering and hoardings at vintage places showcasing NC leaders and their party slogans. The street decoration was done in the backdrop of National Conference’s delegates’ session, held after a gap of 17 years.
The activities of the unionist politicians were last seen in 2014 autumn when the embattled state plunged into election mode soon after devastating floods. The NC-Congress combine was voted out and PDP-BJP coalition took over rather unexpectedly. However, the situation that emerged after the killing of Burhan Wani on July 8, leading to a massive public uprising upset the unionist politicians’ activities in Kashmir. Many of them migrated out like they did in early 1990s and those who didn’t, maintained a low profile and restricted themselves to the confines of their secure homes.
The convergence of a few thousand party workers in Sher-e-Kashmir cricket grounds, situated a furlong away from the residences of the NC owners was quite significant. This was the first attempt of the party to mobilize its dwindling but dedicated cadre spread in Kashmir’s every nook and cranny. The NC has begun realising that it was time for it to re-start the political activity to dislodge the PDP, which is facing the acute existential crisis, thanks to its coalition with the BJP and a perpetuation of a scorched earth policy in Kashmir since July 2016.
The biggest drawback of the NC is that its record is nowhere better to score a point over the PDP. If Mehbooba Mufti is accused of presiding over a massacre of youth and mass bindings’ through unbridled use of pellet guns in the 2016 summer, Omar Abdullah’s track record in 2010 is no better. Mehbooba may have gone a step further in acquiescing to Delhi’s diktats to manage her shaky chair, but it was not altogether a different situation as witnessed by the people in 2010 and later in 2013, when Afzal Guru was put to gallows.
But, NC sees a chance to re-engage with the people by resurrecting its old politics. On October 29, the message was conveyed that the party is eyeing on next assembly elections to oust the PDP. The NC leadership is rather looking forward to a chance if the Mehbooba led government falls and interim polls were held in the embattled state.
The party got a bonus during the by-election for Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary constituency. The blood-soaked election with paltry seven percent turnout became an occasion for the party patriarch Farooq Abdullah to offset the humiliating defeat of 2014. He again returned to Delhi as parliament member and from day one engaged himself in re-establishing his network in the power corridors.
A septuagenarian and having a kidney transplanted, Dr Farooq Abdullah has not lost his vigour and popularity among his own cadre. Perhaps this is the reason that despite his reluctance, he was again given the charge of heading the party, a post he had dedicated to his son way back in 2002. The party’s senior leadership believes that Farooq’s charisma can be used to trigger support base at a time when the ruling party’s performance on the political issues connected with the survival of the people as also on the governance front is under tremendous public scanner. Omar Abdullah deliberately chose to step aside and allow his father to rediscover the old politics that revolved around Delhi-bashing, highlighting institutional disempowerment of Kashmiris, Center’s unending attacks on autonomy and threats to the religious minorities.
Omar has chosen a guarded role for himself. He would go on tweeting on sensitive issues without moulding his ‘nationalist and liberal’ image. On the contrary, Farooq Abdullah has in his inimitable style begun his activities from ‘preaching religion’ to putting Delhi on notice on every count related to J&K affairs. He appeared to be quite vocal when Supreme Court began hearing a petition seeking abrogation of article 35 A of the Indian constitution that guarantees special privileges to J&K’s state subjects. He even engaged with people from the separatist ambit and attempted to forge an ideological alliance on the issue with other stakeholders. Farooq Abdullah summarily rejected the newest initiative of the Narendra Modi led government to appoint a ‘representative’ to hold talks with the ‘genuine stakeholders’. He predicted that the outcome of the appointment was not going to be any good omen for Kashmiris.
The NC’s predicament is that it has failed to play an effective role as an opposition party. With a dozen legislators in the assembly, some of them quite vocal and influential, could not put the government on notice on sensitive issue. The rhetorical chants of misrule were not supported by concrete evidences and effective resistance at appropriate levels. This gives the people a notion that NC’s own misrule has been so brazen that most of its leaders have no moral courage to confront its erstwhile opposition, now ruling the state.
It is difficult to analyse the political possibilities at a time when the barrels of guns have been pointed towards the unionist politicians in certain parts of Kashmir, but NC’s attempt to activate its cadre is not an easy bargain. The elections are not round the corner, but the political activities are bound to leave an impact.
(Author is a senior journalist)