Return of the prodigal: Abdullah’s noise puts NC back in reckoning

Srinagar: Ever since he returned to the political scene last, National Conference (NC) President Dr Farooq Abdullah has already generated a lot of noise, and in the process possibly catapulted his party back into the political reckoning. His public meetings haven’t drawn people but he has forced media to take notice of him through deeply controversial statements, one of which was telling New Delhi bluntly that “it can’t take PoK as Pakistan has not worn bangles”.

On Monday, he triggered a fresh row by daring the Narendra Modi government at the Centre to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk before talking about hoisting one in Pakistan administered  Kashmir (PaK).

“They (Centre and BJP) are talking about raising flag in PoK. I ask them first you go and raise the tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar. They can’t even do that here and they are talking about PoK,” he said.

Earlier, speaking at a rally in Uri, Abdullah  had asked India to give up claim over PaK, “How long shall we keep saying that (PaK) is our part? It (PaK) is not their father’s share. That (PaK) is Pakistan and this (J&K) is India.”

He continued that Pakistan was “not weak and not wearing bangles to allow India to take that part of Jammu and Kashmir under its occupation”.

Abdullah has also termed “the erosion of the state’s autonomy as the genesis of the political problem in Jammu and Kashmir”.

“The restoration of autonomy to J-K is non-negotiable,” he has asserted.

However, there is little that is surprising about NC chief’s outburst.  Abdullah’s game plan is very familiar in Valley and thus fewer people have leapt to the bait.

“This is in keeping with the age-old tradition of Kashmiri mainstream politicians: separatist in Srinagar, secular in Jammu and patriots in New Delhi,” says Waseem Ahmad, a university student. “This no longer works politically for them. But they keep going back to the trick”.

Abdullah’s return to the active politics in the state has, however, been a calculated move: an attempt to wade into the space vacated by the ruling  PDP, rendered a political pariah for its role in the killings and blinding’s during the last year. 

And this Abdullah has tried to accomplish by straddling Valley’s mainstream-separatist divide much like PDP was trying to do and by riding the crest of the prevailing heightened separatist sentiment by taking on New Delhi and obliquely associating NC with Hurriyat. And only Abdullah could accomplish this tough assignment because of his fluency in Kashmiri language which his son Omar Abdullah lacks and because of his knack to connect with the masses, a skill which Omar has yet to master.

It certainly has benefited NC. And it was apparent when the people at Khankah didn’t shout slogans for Azadi when Abdullah visited the shrine. But when the CM Mehbooba Mufti went, she was heckled by the crowd.

“This tells you something about the shifting of the political ground in Kashmir,” says Naseer Ahmad, a local columnist. “Abdullah may not have generated  groundswell in favour of NC, his statements have nevertheless resonated with people and therein lies NC’s advantage”.

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