Our biggest mistake was not Quitting the NDA Government when our autonomy proposal was rejected by the union cabinet.-April 2009
President, National Conference, Omar Abdullah
The general feeling in the state is that your party National Conference is going to form the next government and you will be the next chief minister. How does this feel? I think it is a great injustice to the voters to presume even before the elections have been announced that you know who they will vote for. There is no doubt that politically National Conference is much better placed this time than we were in 2002. A few factors helped us reach this state. One, stepped up tempo of activities from other political parties has given a sense to our party workers that if they can do it, so can we. This is the reason that in the rural areas, where earlier one didn’t see National Conference activities, we are very active today. Two, the reduced threat to political workers has meant that they can now openly hold public meetings, wave their banners and flags, stay out late and not worry about retribution. Three, we are facing these elections as an opposition, so we don’t have to face a report card of the last five and a half years.

It is much easier to fight an election in opposition. Of course, there are challenges as well. Because of the improved scenario of the National Conference, there are a lot more people who want to fight the elections on our ticket. While in 1996, we could not find enough candidates, today I can’t find anybody who does not want to be an NC candidate. I have constituencies where 10 people think that they are the potential candidates and each believes that he is the winning candidate. So obviously I will have to deal with an element of disillusionment, even anger to the extent that some will simply sit and not do anything. Worst of the lot will stand as independents, while some may even join the rival political party.

You have said in the past that there were a few mistakes that you and your party made which cost you the 2002 elections. What were these mistakes?

The biggest mistake was not quitting the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government when NC’s Kashmir Autonomy proposal passed by the J&K assembly was rejected by the Union Cabinet. At that time we went along with the assurance given by the Prime Minister and the deputy prime minister who told us that they would like to discuss the issue with us and take it forward from there. Both Mr Vajpayee and Mr Advani had travelled to Srinagar when my grand mother passed away and made that assurance to us. Subsequently, some amount of discussion did take place, but clearly, their heart was not in it. In hindsight, we should have quit then. The second mistake was more humane in nature than political. After the Gujarat riots, I should have resigned. I had voted against the government (in which I was a minister) in Parliament, but clearly, that was not enough. I had felt that by resigning I would be passing judgement on Mr Vajpayee as the architect of the riots as opposed to Mr Narendra Modi, which wouldn’t be fair. At the end of the day, it was the government of India’s job really to do more to control what was happening in Gujarat.
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