Why Abdullahs Provoke Modi

The Abdullah family’s tirade against Narendra Modi has begun to mellow down. Barely a day after he issued some hard-hitting statements against the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Farooq Abdullah has softened his tone, saying he had nothing against  Modi as a person. An ironic climbdown indeed.  Every other politician who speaks against Modi is first and foremost targets his person, his anti-Muslim role, and his promotion and protection of the prime accused in communal riots and killings.

And BJP-RSS combine has pulled out all stops promote Modi the person, his model, and his courage to stand up and be counted as someone who taught Muslims a lesson or two. But Farooq Abdullah is the only individual who has nothing against Modi the person.

Farooq Abdullah’s remarks that those voting for Modi should drown in the sea, and that Muslim Kashmir would secede if Modi came to power, coupled with Omar Abdullah’s response to Giriraj Kishore that he (Omar) would prefer to go to Pakistan than live in an India ruled by Modi, have turned Modi into a full-fledged election issue.

And Modi retorted: “If somebody has to drown then you (Abdullah) should look into a mirror and ask whether those who have chased Kashmiri Pandits out have any ground to preach against communalism.” Omar Abdullah answered that it was Governor Jagmohan, a BJP man, who orchestrated the exodus of Pandits from the Valley to clear the field to teach Muslims a (bloody) lesson.

The exchange could go have gone on for some time, but the Abdullahs have softened their position, apologetically bringing distorted history to their defence.

But the crucial point is why the father-and-son duo has started provoking Narendra Modi and the Sangh Parivar in the last phase of the parliamentary elections. The fact is that such provocations only add to the demonization of Kashmiri Muslims.  It is not the Abdullah family, but the people of Kashmir who have to pay for what only harden the resolve of the RSS and the BJP against Kashmiris. One is at a loss to explain why the NC government never speaks about facts pertaining, for example, to the Kashmiri Pandits. Since it has been worked out by the RSS to demonize Kashmiri Muslims, the NC government, like the RSS, treats the Pandit issue as frozen in 1990. The fact is that millions of rupees have been spent on the welfare of the Pandits, something that cannot be said of many displaced people anywhere in the world.

Moreover, the fact that Pandits have been living, working and serving in Kashmir has been made obscure by all. Thus the Abdullahs do not really say anything that could pierce the propaganda balloon. This is just one major example of where the NC has failed. Omar Abdullah wishes to debate Article 370 with Modi, but the fact is that, for the people of Kashmir, it is the NC leadership that has dealt the death blow to whatever is associated with this constitutional provision. One only needs to go through the magisterial work on the topic by A.G Noorani. What Modi will or will not do is yet in the area of speculation. But what the NC has already done, the Accord of 1975 included, is a matter of record.

The problem with the Abdullah family is that it is a misfit with the BJP. There is not any real ideological or political difference that separates them from the sangh parivar. After all, Omar Abdullah was a minister in the NDA government under Vajpayee. Historically, the National Conference, particularly the Abdullah family, was groomed by the Congress leadership under the direct patronage of Nehru since 1938. The family has acquired power and privilege under the Congress. It was only during the 1949-53 period that the Abdullahs misread the mind of Nehru and paid the price of remaining outside the power structure till 1975.

Even during those “dry” years, the Congress was fully alive to the needs of the Abdullah family. Since 1975, it was only for public consumption that the show of shadow-boxing with the Congress was mounted to project the NC as a champion of Kashmiri nationalism. The veneer was finally cast aside in 2008 with the formation of a coalition government in the state, and the two parties are acting as one since.

With hindsight, it would not be far from the truth to say that the Abdullahs are not much bothered about communalism, Article 370 or Muslims. They are more apprehensive of their political future in Modi-led India. Unlike the Congress party, whose leaders like Gandhi and Nehru have been the NC’s godfathers, its relationship with the sangh parivar is problematic.

After the death of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee in 1953,  the RSS has viewed the National Conference as anti-Hindu. The present provocations could well turn into a boon as they could be a message for future accommodation and engagement. The Abdullah family can never afford to remain outside New Delhi’s power loop. These highly provocative statements, followed by apologia, appear to be nothing but a strategy for a future political engagement with a Modi-led government in Delhi. How can the Abdullahs, who could not summon such courage in 1938, 1947, 1953 or 1975, dare to challenge the Hindutva brigade when it is at its most powerful?