Now Omar Abdullah is searching cyberspace to find out why and where the NC lost its soul. Apparently in response to feedback on [email protected] some steps have been taken and others may follow to resurrect the image of a party fallen from favour where people had, by and large, supported it for so many decades of its existence. I will not repeat the horrible history of the NC’s achievements, but a look at some recent events, and the severe and historic debacle the National Conference has suffered, indicates that Omar Abdullah is afflicted with two terrible ailments. People feel that he is the weakest Chief Minister the state has ever had, and, cruelty being the result when the weak try to show power, his rule has been characterised by zulm.
By the end of 2008 when Omar Abdullah took power after historic pro –azadi demonstrations provoked by the Amaranth land fiasco, a good many people were quite optimistic about this dynamic young man who was seen to have acquitted himself well as a union minister, and given his youthful years, was thought to be better placed to understand the aspirations and problems of the people, particularly the growing generation. But he proved to be a failure even on mundane issues of roads, water and power.
.One of Kashmir’s young intellectuals, Arjimand Hussain Talib, wrote a book Burden of Inheritance to aver that Omar Abdullah was a personality in his own right and should not be seen in the shadow of his legacy. The writer proved grossly mistaken in this, because Omar Abdullah later repeatedly affirmed his family connections to politics which, again, should not have been taken as otherwise .But as days passed, Omar Abdullah could not shake off his image of being powerless before his coalition partners in the Congress who were perceived to be dictating terms to the Chief Minister.
This image strengthened when it became apparent that even Abdul Rahim Rathar, the state’s Finance Minister and a man from his own party, paid scant regard to some decisions and key suggestions from the Chief Minister’s Office. Besides, his council of ministers would often be found squabbling and continuously interfering with each other’s jurisdiction. And nothing happened when probes were ordered, and the CRPF and the police went on unchecked, vandalizing homes during curfews in old Srinagar.
This image of weakness has been compounded by a public perception of his rule being one of zulm. The government was, or still is, certainly a coalition, but one led by Omar Abdullah. Its Congress part would not work on the public imagination as the party is, in any case, a party from outside, an extension of New Delhi. So the label of cruelty has stuck to the National Conference, and struck at its roots.
This because people believe that nothing was done to punish the perpetrators of the crimes of 2010 when 118 youth were gunned down during street protests; because people believed that the government protected those responsible the Shopian tragedy that claimed the lives of Aasiya and Neelofar, and did nothing to bring the perpetrators to justice; because Afzal Guru was hanged in Tihar Jail with total disregard to established norms of justice; because the use of pellet guns had destroyed the lives of dozens of people across Kashmir; because the poor pay high rates for electricity which they get by fits and starts despite the state’s potential of thousands of megawatts
The PDP played on this public sense of insecurity, projecting itself as a party that had ended the Valley’s atmosphere of state-instilled fear. The zulm perception gained ground because dozens of students were victimised and hounded in colleges and universities outside the state, and the Government could do nothing; because teenagers were seen being arrested on charges of stone-pelting; because of Farooq Abdullah’s buffoonery; because when the Muslims of Kishtwar were victimized, all the government could do was to say that its minister narrowly escaped harm, and still resigned.
This twin perception of weakness and zulm is the real problem Omar’s National Conference faces. Can the Chief Minister remedy this in the coming months?
Zulm exacts a terrible toll on people’s psyches, and Kashmir has countless commentators to tell the long story of the past sixty years. The burden of history has returned for the party and its dynasty. The burden is too huge, and time too short, for Omar Abdullah to make amends.