First Person | Such a Long Journey

Omar Abdullah needs one moment of boldness to silence his critics

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

The good thing about Omar Abdullah is that he is not a man in hurry. He talks of a six-year mandate to govern (one of which is already gone mostly in fire-fighting) and to deliver on his promises to those who voted him to power. Perhaps, this is also the reason he is taking his time to unveil his vision for Jammu and Kashmir, which hopefully will leave a lasting impression.

There is, however, a small problem. The entire opposition in the state, both the elected and the non-elected variety, is not only in a great hurry but desperately so. And their collective haste is increasingly putting Abdullah in the quick sand of murky politicking. Unfortunately, instead of heaving himself out, Abdullah seems to be surrendering to this murkiness by joining rhetorical issues with his accusers. This behaviour suits the opposition leaders, not the chief minister. And certainly, not the chief minister, whose only baggage is the hope that he has kindled and the expectations that he has raised, both inside and outside the state. Rhetoric is the weapon of those who cannot make the change.

However, Abdullah’s bigger folly is in the realm of omission and not commission. Whenever he is asked about incidents of violent protests, stoning by the people or shutdowns ordered by factions of the Hurriyat Party, he says that all this is happening in pockets of the Valley where his party, the National Conference, has traditionally been weak. The areas are predictable: Downtown Srinagar, Old Baramullah town, Sopore, Shopian… Had the NC cadre been strong, there wouldn’t be trouble in these areas, as the cadre would have prevailed upon the discordant elements.

As a realistic political assessment, nobody can fault with this. But seen in the larger, big picture way, there is something terribly wrong with a chief minister making a statement like this. Abdullah is not the chief minister of the NC cadre, or those who have voted him in. As a chief minister he is the representative of everyone who resides in J&K whether he supports Abdullah politically or not. As a politician it is his job to ensure that those who are opposed to him do not remain his opposition. The NC cadre and the NC strongholds are his inheritance. Even as he consolidates his inheritance, he needs to go beyond what his grandfather and father bequeathed him. The only way he can add to what he has got is by taking his battle in the bastion of those who oppose him. By not doing this, he is limiting himself to what he predecessors did. Where is the promise of change in that?

There is another bigger issue here. Abdullah, with his education, his liberal outlook and vision should strive to become a role-model for the youth in the state. He should be able to strike hope for the future in their hearts. Instead of pelting stones, these hopeless youngsters should be aspiring for a better life, who understands their angst as his own. Being a young man himself, but with better opportunities, Abdullah should engage with this section of the population more stridently because this group will eventually decide which way the situation turns in the coming years: Whether these youngster who have seen nothing but blood and death in their 20-25 year lives (since trouble started in 1989), will succumb to the lure of violence like their older relatives or will they chose life.

It is true that there would be some mischievous elements among the youth which pours on the streets on the slightest pretext, but the majority comprises a disaffected lot with some modicum of education. Abdullah understands this clinically. He told FORCE in one of his interviews that the problem with the youth is not education but employability; so his focus is on creating an education system that can produce employable people. This is a good policy, but to someone who is told that he cannot be employed because he is unemployable, sounds as if the government is blaming him for its inability to provide him with a job. Chances are that he will simply turn his back on the government and pick up the next stone whenever the call is given. After all, what does he have to lose?

Certain things are easiest to do when you are a politician. For instance, creating an impact, or making a bold statement even if in terms of substance it means nothing; like Rahul Gandhi’s local train journey in Shiv Sena’s stronghold in Mumbai. Abdullah needs to make an impact. Instead of him being on the defensive, one act of courage can put others on the defensive. Kashmir is not an easy state; those who govern it need to be efficient and magnanimous as chief ministers, shrewd as politicians and visionary as statesmen. Abdullah’s advantage is his clean image and obvious sincerity. A little bit of hurry will help.


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