Omar Abdullah survives the test - for now (News Analysis)

By F. Ahmed, IANS
Monday, December 13, 2010

SRINAGAR - Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s seat looked shaky during the five-month unrest in the Kashmir Valley that claimed 110 lives. But he has emerged stronger, partly due to the confidence shown in him by the central government and partly due to the patience of ordinary Kashmiris wearing thin with separatist shutdowns.

Although Abdullah tried his best to carry along political rivals, the opposition left no stone unturned in trying to capsize the National Conference-Congress coalition boat that rocked dangerously during the unrest.

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the National Conference’s main rival in the valley, distanced itself from the peace overtures initiated by Abdullah and New Delhi and refused to be associated with the normalisation process unless Abdullah was sacked.

The demand of the PDP for his removal was so focussed that the party even ignored a request from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend an all-party meeting convened in Srinagar to assess the situation and recommend a way out.

This came as a surprise as PDP patron and former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed is known to have a very good personal relationship with the prime minister.

But even some Congress leaders in the state were shaken when Abdullah, the youngest chief minister in India at 40, told the state assembly that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir with India had been through an agreement and that the state had not merged with the rest of the country.

Many Congress leaders in the state feared that his statement would give rivals in the Hindu majority Jammu region a strong handle against the Congress.

Some even said Abdullah was deliberately trying to carve out a space for the National Conference that was closer to the one his grandfather had during the mid-1950s and throughout 1960s when Sheikh Abdullah advocated a plebiscite for the people to determine their political future.

If Omar Abdullah took a gamble by giving his rivals in both the separatist and mainstream political camps a taste of their own medicine, it paid off well.

Contrary to the expectations of his rivals, Abdullah’s statement was supported by Home Minister P. Chidambaram and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

Sources close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi say she had made it clear that “New Delhi would not commit the mistakes of the past when elected governments were brought down in Jammu and Kashmir because of differences of perception between the centre and the state”.

“Omar must be supported to put his house in order” — this was the clear message from United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson to the Congress party and the central government.

With total support from the central government, Abdullah gained confidence and decided to reach out to the people. He advised all his ministers and legislators to move out and be seen among the people. Ministers and legislators had virtually withdrawn to hibernation during the unrest for fear of public reprisals following the killing of a large number of civilians at the hands of security forces.

As the separatists started losing steam because they extended their strikes, protests and shutdowns beyond the patience of the common man, Abdullah benefited from their self-defeating agenda.

The result has been that Abdullah has not only learnt his political lessons well but undergone baptism by fire. Abdullah has survived perhaps the worst storm of his political career though Jammu and Kashmir remains such an unpredictable place.

Abdullah has, however, proved that his ideological proximity to New Delhi has not clouded his belief that political power finally lies in the lanes and bylanes of Srinagar city and not in the corridors of the South Block.

(14.12.2010 - F. Ahmed can be contacted at

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