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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