He came promising hope, and is now going into elections fighting charges of an ineffective regime that failed to pursue Kashmir’s cause. Muzamil Jaleel on what changed and why in Omar’s six-year rule.
It was the summer of 1999 and Begum Akbar Jehan — wife of National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah — gave an interview to The Indian Express that created a huge stir. In her last interview to a newspaper, she accused her son and then chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s government of having “fallen into the net of intrigues of New Delhi”, and letting “the party’s regional character become diluted”.
If the woman the NC called “Madre Meharban (caring mother)” held out any hope, it was concerning her grandson Omar, who had just joined politics then and been elected MP from Srinagar. “I am sure Omar will prove himself and be the real ideological successor to Sher-i-Kashmir (Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah),” Jehan said.
But Farooq would still pay no attention to his mother’s warnings. The NC later joined the BJP-led NDA government in New Delhi, and Omar even became a minister in it.
Fifteen years later, the wheel has come full circle. The NDA is back in power at the Centre, an NC-Congress government is ruling J&K, and Omar, as Chief Minister, is facing charges of misgovernance and failure to represent Kashmir’s aspirations before the Centre. With the NC and Congress finally calling off an alliance, Omar looks increasingly politically isolated.
In a first, the NC didn’t win in any of the three parliamentary constituencies in Kashmir in the recent elections, which all went to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). While the Congress also took a beating, it is still a natural partner the PDP could look at after the Assembly elections later this year.
In 2008, Omar rode to power on the promise of change. He had not just pushed the NC to snap ties with the BJP, but also publicly apologised for joining them. In the wake of the Amarnath land row, he had positioned the NC as a Kashmir-centric party. His criticised president Pratibha Patil for posing with an AK-47 rifle on a visit to the Valley in May 2008, saying it reminded him of a “forgettable Sylvester Stallone movie”. His proposal to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate custodial killings and other rights violations nudged the NC to the centre of local aspirations. Unlike Farooq’s tirades against Pakistan, Omar had opened up channels of communication with Islamabad, supported a ceasefire with militants and dialogue with separatists. He had been the NC’s first leader to visit Pakistan.
Omar had also repeatedly stressed that his key goal was to undo the NC’s image of being a party continued…