June 20, 2022 12:38:20 pm
The National Conference (NC) president and ex-Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, has declined to be the joint Opposition’s Presidential candidate. The Opposition camp had proposed his name for the July 18 Presidential election after the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief, Sharad Pawar, declined to be its Presidential nominee.
While withdrawing his name, Farooq said J&K needs him to “help navigate these uncertain times” and that “a lot more active politics is ahead of him”.
The 85-year-old three-time CM and veteran parliamentarian, Farooq had also been a Union minister during the previous Congress-led UPA government. He has had a remarkable political career spanning more than four decades during which he has been feted as well as criticised by various quarters on a host of crucial issues. He is currently an MP from the Srinagar parliamentary constituency.
A flamboyant leader and consummate orator, Farooq has been at the helm of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference — the oldest and the largest cadre- based mainstream political party in Jammu and Kashmir — since early 1980s.
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In 2020, Farooq was also named as the chairman of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) — an alliance of J&K’s mainstream political parties, including the NC and its arch rival People’s Democratic Party (PDP), formed to seek restoration of J&K’s special status.
A doctor by profession, Farooq was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1980. Two years later, he took over as the J&K CM following the demise of his father Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the NC’s founder. His chief ministerial tenure had then proved to be short-lived as his brother-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah led a group of NC dissidents to topple his government with the support of the Congress party.
When the Shah government was dismissed in 1986, a new political front, comprising of various social, political and religious parties, came up in the form of the Muslim United Front with the avowed objective to provide an “alternative political set-up” to the J&K people. Unnerved by its prospects, the Farooq-led
NC and the Congress joined hands for the 1987 Assembly elections. The NC-Congress combine came to power in that election, which was widely considered as “rigged” that stoked separatism in Kashmir and marked the beginning of insurgency.
With militancy spiking and the Centre deciding to appoint Jagmohan as the J&K governor in 1990, Farooq resigned as the CM and shifted to London. His party was then the prime target of militants as his father was seen as having been instrumental in Kashmir’s accession to India.
Subsequently, J&K remained in a political vacuum for six years as the mainstream parties left the space open for separatists. A worried Centre approached Farooq to restart the political process in the state. He returned to the Valley and his party, amid separatists’ boycott-election call and absence of any political rival, swept the 1996 Assembly polls. He was thus re-elected as the J&K CM for the third time.
Later, the NC joined hands with the BJP-led NDA and Farooq’s son Omar Abdullah was inducted into the then Atal Behari Vajpayee government as the minister of state for external affairs. In 2002, when Farooq’s arch rival and then PDP chief, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was appointed as the J&K CM with support from the Congress, the former handed over the reins of his party to his son. While Omar took over as the NC president, the senior Abdullah became the party patron.
Farooq returned to take the party’s reins in 2009, when Omar was sworn in as the J&K CM. He then shifted his focus to the national politics. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in the 2009 general elections and was inducted into the then Manmohan Singh-led UPA government as the minister for renewable energy.
When J&K’s special status was abrogated and the state split into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh — on August 5, 2019, Farooq was detained under the draconian J&K Public Safety Act (PSA), a law promulgated by his father Sheikh Abdullah that allows the government to detain a person for up to two years without a trial.
The scrapping of J&K’s special status brought its two major political rivals, the NC and the PDP, closer and in October 2020, they formed the PAGD with Farooq being named as its chief.
Apart from politics, Farooq has been actively involved in the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) and had been its president from 2001 to 2012. The CBI and the ED have been investigating a case of financial irregularities in the JKCA during 2004-2009. The ED has even attached some Farooq properties in the case. Last month, Omar was questioned by the ED for several hours in connection with the case. The NC has maintained that the central agencies’ move against Abdullahs is aimed at silencing the critics of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at a time when Farooq and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti have been trying to forge an alliance against the saffron party in J&K.
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