First the positive side of Dr. Farooq Abdullah’s unpredictability which in an ironical way underlines a basic trait of Kashmiris: that they are tolerant of religious preferences but highly sensitive to any political assault on their identity. Farooq has over the years established himself as a soulful Ram Bhakht with his bhajans never having been a source of even mild criticism. He has won election after election even as his detractors would spread his videos viral around. From the perfection of his religious melodies, restricted strictly to Hindu mythology it seems to any one that he practices music and has faith in the sacred lines that he renders with obvious devotion.
His family’s marital choices have been as varied, cosmopolitan and liberal as they could ever be. Still Sher-e-Kashmir’s descendants enjoy a degree of political acceptability the core of which has survived the vicissitudes of Kashmir politics. Omar Abdullah even boasted about it a few years back when he said on record as to how he had won many elections after his marriage to a non-Muslim. That is a fair conclusion.
In that background the recent political actions Farooq took look amazingly out of sync even with his own record of U-turns. But it should be easy to relate these with the deep sense of apprehension prevailing among Kashmiris, about special status of the state. A smart practitioner, he found in it a chance to retrieve himself and his party from his own disastrous sloganeering at a memorial function in Delhi in which he dedicated himself to strengthening ‘Bharat Mata for rest of my life’. He had clearly misjudged the sentiment back home when he only a day later went to Hazratbal to offer Eid prayers. Displaying a strong instinct of survival he seemed on videos to be rejecting the suggestion to run away immediately and made his escape only when the Nimaz was on. The response to his Delhi conduct by the young and old of Kashmir would look unprecedented to any longtime observer of Kashmir situation. He has now sought to hijack the sentiment of identity without considering that he has almost banged shut the door to return to democratic process for quite some time. We could become the fodder for proxies for a long time.
This is not Farooq Abdullah’s first tryst with disaster. He converted mainstream politics into a dirty word during the 1987 elections and ran away in 1990 to stay in exile till the stage was set for his return six years later. At a time when possibly the issues that are haunting us now could have been clinched, Farooq forgetting the people he was to represent, swore tearfully at his inauguration to shed every drop of blood for Bharat Maata. That was the moment Jammu and Kashmir lost its chance to return to a dignified return to the republic as a truly special entity. Just a year earlier then when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao made the famous ‘sky is the limit’ offer in a broadcast from Burkino Faso where he was on an official tour, Farooq plainly refused to participate in Lok Sabha elections as a quid pro quo.
Two years later he joined the BJP led coalition when he had all the MPs from the state and also an unprecedented, over ¾th majority in the state Assembly. Nothing came out of that alliance except that Saifuddin Soz was expelled for bringing down the first Vajpayee government, notwithstanding the fact that it turned out a blessing in disguise for the good natured Professor. If Farooq had waited just one day in 1996 for swearing in, he could according to many have got a better deal for the state than Ikhwan, STF and POTO.
When Vajpayee government opened the channels of communication with Hurriyat and militant leadership, its Kashmir ally Farooq Abdullah got the autonomy resolution passed by the state legislature only to be dumped by the center with a terse message as recorded by L. K. Advani in his memoirs and never contradicted by the NC. In the process he subverted the talks. The Ramzan ceasefire announced by the center was ironically opposed by the state government and Farooq fielded his DGP, Ashok Suri, to dare the center that the offer did not apply to state police and that it would continue to go after the militants. The latest Ramzan ceasefire followed an all party meet called by Mehbooba Mufti and NC did not actually support the call. When asked for it’s view, the NC delegation said it would return after consulting leadership but the then the CM went ahead in anticipation.
If Farooq has now taken the stand that he has on elections, it is not that his love for power has ebbed. Just go through the statements he made since his return to active politics after recovery from a major ailment. He virtually deposed his son from the presidentship of the party and made himself heard more in Delhi than in Srinagar. His latest alliance with Arnab Goswami against the ‘foolish Kashmiris’ is too fresh to be erased. ‘Mein kisi se darta nahin houn’ video is still making rounds. But the fact is that Farooq Abdullah darta hai.
Why is he now turning into a fuming, angry man almost renouncing electoral politics? Consider the sequence of events: Farooq raises slogans in Delhi, outrage against him he ignores it till he got the message in Hazratbal. Farooq tries to brazen it out on Arnab’s channel and make it into a nationalistic virtue to appease powers that be. He goes to receive the new governor at the airport triggering speculations of his forming a government with whosoever. The NC supremo now made a very prominent appearance with the governor at the SKICC after the government had announced local body elections. He bats strongly for participation in these polls clearly saying they have nothing to do with political issues.
The same evening his senior colleague and general secretary, Ali Mohammad Sagar, a veteran in his own right, appeared in the media disapproving the ‘unilateral decision of the government on the schedule of elections’. That was possibly the moment which shook Farooq Abdullah. Given the wolf and lamb relationship of NC leadership and its ranks that was too huge a tremor for Farooq to ignore. With a strong nose for opportunities he adopted the Article 35A issue to get his party out of the trouble he had primarily caused because of his Delhi Declaration 2018.
But in the process Farooq achieved two things. One, that he lost his Ram Bhakht image till he comes up with another Hanuman Chalisa and second, he again reduced mainstream politics into part of the problem which it had ceased to be, post 2002 when it started to be seen as part of solution of Kashmir problem. That is a loss we will collectively mourn one day. I wish I am proved wrong on the second count.
The author is a member of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Views expressed here are author’s personal. He can be emailed firstname.lastname@example.org