Ruhullah Does It Again, Counters The Emerging Statehood Narrative

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by Tasavur Mushtaq

SRINAGAR: As the former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah broke his silence, the noises in the political circles have started getting shriller. The Op-ed followed by an interview published in The Indian Express where Omar explains his viewpoint has led to political upheaval, from Delhi to Kashmir.

Omar Abdullah holds first video conference with senior party leaders of Jammu province after his release

Interpreted as a deviation from the stated position of the erstwhile state’s oldest party, National Conference (NC), Omar was grilled virtually for apparently pressing for restoration of the statehood, a demand also being made by the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).

As the outside outburst was being managed, an internal conflict within the party became a sort of a revolt.

NC’s firebrand leader from Budgam, an influential Shia leader Aga Syed Ruhullah resigned from the position of party spokesman. A three-time lawmaker from central Kashmir’s Budgam, Ruhullah had “difference of opinion” with the party vice-president. “I have sent across my resignation from the post of Chief Spokesperson of @JKNC_From here on none of my statements should be considered as such,” he tweeted.

Reacting to the published piece of Omar in which he spells out party’s policy of fighting Article 370 revocation in court and apparent reference for pressing restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, Ruhullah while talking to the newspaper has said, “what happened on August 5, 2019, is beyond statehood” and restoration of statehood should be the last demand.

Currently, under house detention, Ruhullah while talking to the newspaper has said that Omar in an article has spelt out that Article 370 would be fought in court, and restoration of statehood would be demanded.

“The restoration of statehood should be the least of the demands. It should be the last demand. Our main demand should be the restoration of special status,” he said.

Omar in his write-up has revealed, “as for me, I am very clear that while J&K remains a Union Territory I will not be contesting any Assembly elections. Having been a member of the most empowered Assembly in the land and that, too, as the leader of that Assembly for six years, I simply cannot and will not be a member of a House that has been disempowered the way ours has.”

This was construed as an apparent reference to ask for restoration of statehood while accepting the abrogation of the special status. Omar had written: “Truth be told, the BJP pushing this wasn’t a complete surprise — it was part of its poll agenda for decades. What came as a shock was the humiliation heaped on the state by downgrading it and splitting it into two Union Territories. Over the last seven decades, Union Territories have been upgraded to states but this was the first time a state was downgraded to a Union Territory.”

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah walking towards his father’s house after being released from detention after eighty months on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. KL Image: BILAL BAHADUR

Omar, further in an interview has categorically ruled out agitating over the restoration of Article 370 and 35A. “Now if you are asking me whether the NC will take this battle to the streets, I think the time for that has passed. When in the immediate aftermath of what happened on August 5, the battle didn’t go out into the streets, why would it go down to the streets one year later? So we will fight it politically, legally,” Omar said.

Ruhullah said the party vice president has spoken out and it is now the official line. “This should be the policy towards which NC will now move”.

When asked whether Omar’s policy is more of reconciliation towards Delhi, Ruhullah said, “If party’s central working committee endorses the same pattern, then it should be reconciliation. I hope the working committee strikes down any reconciliation. However, if the working committee endorses the same policy to move ahead, then it is a reconciliation, unfortunately, to which I personally may not subscribe to”

“The politicians should talk and fight for the restoration of rights snatched from J&K people on August 5. Even if we are jailed or put in prisons for talking about it, we should not be worried and afraid. Instead, we should be ready for it,” added Ruhullah.

Omar Reacts

In an attempt to clear his position, Omar took on to Twitter. “I have no problem being disagreed with for what I say or do but when you invent things & put words in my mouth to attack me then that’s more about you than about me. All you lazy journalists & commentators please show me where I’ve demanded statehood be restored,” he wrote on Twitter.

In another tweet, Omar said “I’ve simply said that having been CM of the STATE of J&K I will not fight an assembly election to the assembly of the UT of J&K. That’s it. No more no less! That’s a far cry from saying I’m demanding statehood be restored.”

Member Parliament and Jammu and Kashmir National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah along with his brother son and other party leaders praying for the eternal peace of the Begum Akbar Jehan Abdullah on her 20th death anniversary at her grave in Hazratbal in Srinagar on Saturday, July 11, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Terming disappointment as part of politics, Omar continues to clear the air. “Haters will hate & nothing will change that. There are a few people from whom I expected better but disappointment is part of politics & one has learnt to live with it. Life goes on.”

Reacting to a tweet about his interview, Omar said, “Not forgotten. The impression is being created that only statehood is required & all other aspects of 5th Aug have been washed away. That’s lazy & misleading. I’m have never placed statehood restoration above the fight for J&K’s special status yet the 370 comments get wiped out.”

Emphasizing that the views were his “personal”, he said “I may not, but the party will chart its own course when all the leaders are set free and given a chance to talk. I’ve made it clear that these are ONLY my thoughts, I am not speaking for the party. The party and its leaders will formulate our policy, not me as an individual.”

Past Skirmishes

This is not the first time when Ruhullah reacted. Earlier in May when Tanvir Sadiq wrote an opinion piece in the local daily, there was a reaction and speculation of a rift within the party.

In a series of tweets, he said holding assembly elections in the Union territory should not be the only goal of mainstream politicians as part of a political process, as even being arrested was a part of it.

“Many of my colleagues are detained under PSA. Others including me are put under house detention. My heart goes out to them and I wish & pray for their immediate release. But, believe me, their and our (house) detention is a political message and process itself,” the NC leader, who is under house detention since August last year, tweeted.

He said the political leaders of Kashmir should not be seeking permission from the government for various things as it would mean doing only what the government wanted them to do.

Agha Syed Ruhulla Mehdi

“Revisit domicile law? Lift curbs on Internet? ”LET” political process be run? Is that all what you are looking for in this reconciliation? If I am not reading wrong, you are basically asking for 4G (Internet) and THEIR ”PERMISSION” to let us start the political process? & then all is well? Ruhullah wrote on Twitter.

“This provokes a question in my mind. What is a political process for you? Only an election? If we go with a reason and stand our course, even being detained is a part of the political process. But yes, it depends on your objectives. And sorry, it”s insulting to ask THEM to “let” us,” he added.

He said while the government was doing its job, the hands of local leaders were not tied.

“They are doing job. Our hands aren’t tied. Our thoughts aren’t tied. If the objective is not only elections, we are only in a political process. Asking them to “let” us start means doing only what they want us to do,” he said.

Tanvir Sadiq, who has served as an advisor to Omar Abdullah when he was chief minister, had called for the release of all political leaders including Mehbooba Mufti, Ali Muhammad Sagar, and Shah Faesal, besides restoration of all means of communication. He had also called for allowing resumption of the political process.

After his hard-hitting criticism, Ruhullah later removed his party designation from his Twitter handle.

Jammu and Kashmir Former Chief Minister and J&K National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah addressing a press conference along with his senior party leaders at his Gupkar residence in Srinagar on Tuesday.
PHOTO BY BILAL BAHADUR

‘Axe Forgets, Tree Remembers’

The face of NC in Budgam, a three-time lawmaker and a former minister, Ruhullah was instrumental in party president Farooq Abdullah’s Lok Sabha and vice-president Omar Abdullah’s assembly polls win in 2019.

But post-August 5, he has taken a stiff stand against the scrapping of the special status. In his pinned tweet, he mentions, “The axe forgets, but the tree remembers”.

On April 1, when the government issued an order spelling out new domicile law and eligibility for employment in the newly carved out union territory, Ruhullah, in his first reaction protested the centre’s August 5 move, saying he had not forgotten the “ugly dance of democracy” on the floor of the parliament on August 5, 2019.

“I have not forgotten the sinister laughter’s on the faces in parliament while my STATE was being stripped and mutilated. I have not forgotten how a coup was mounted against a population of entire state and all their democratic and constitutional rights were murdered,” he had posted on Twitter.

The NC leader had said he had “not forgotten the humiliation I felt as a citizen of a proud STATE on the day of August 5”.

“How sinisterly you acted and how sinister you looked. I have not forgotten, how you tossed every book of constitution out of the window while you were drunk in arrogance and power.

“You did your part and you may have forgotten. But as they say, ‘the axe forgets, but the tree remembers’,” he tweeted.

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