Contrary to the crux of his articles, newspaper and television interviews and tweets over the last about two months, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has said in a book interview what few from Srinagar to New Delhi were expecting from him at this point of time. He has asserted without a shred of equivocation that Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was an integral part of the Union of India and it had no future outside.
“I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never be Indian enough for extreme right-wing nationalist politicians. But then I’ll also not be Kashmiri enough for those who don’t see Kashmir’s future as part of India. And, therefore, it is best to be true to oneself,” Omar has told the authors of a new book on India’s contemporary politics. His interview carried in the book titled ‘<em>India Tomorrow: Conversations with the Next Generation of Political Leaders</em>’ has rightly ruffled feathers in the Valley’s pseudo-separatist camp. Reactions are understandably virulent in social media.
A cross-section of the vocal naysayers, which has been obsessed with a deep separatist sentiment and never respected India’s democratic institutions or exercises in Kashmir, wanted Omar to carry the mantle that had been grounded with New Delhi’s crackdown on sections of the ‘amphibian politicians’ after Mehbooba Mufti’s dismissal as Chief Minister in June 2018 followed by the killing of 40 CRPF personnel in a suicide attack in February 2019.
This section of the influence managers lives on the unbridled Facebook and Twitter and never casts a vote. Previously, for about 18 years, it enjoyed enough space in the system while legitimizing secession and promoting the separatist narratives on one hand and sailing comfortably in the mainstream on the other. This domain was conveniently named ‘grey space’ or the ‘middle ground’. The elite were its beneficiaries and the ordinary Kashmiri its victim. Without ever asserting a structured dialogue for conflict resolution, this section of the political and intellectual elite harped on ‘dialogue’ and ‘reconciliation’. It over arched to even theatrical slogans of plebiscite by one-odd legislator in the assembly.
After the transformation introduced in August 2019, and apparently a political vacuum created by scrapping of J&K’s special status, these people had been telling the world that there was no more “an Indian in Kashmir” and that no political party would participate in any elections until total withdrawal of the August 2019 changes. There was remarkable applause when a National Conference leader thundered on Twitter that he would not contest any elections until “everything that has been snatched away on 5 August 2019 is returned”. For a couple of weeks, it set the tone and trend in Omar’s party as he and his father began giving out ‘clarifications’ that there would be no participation in elections until Articles 370 and 35-A were back with restoration of statehood.
In this backdrop, Omar’s assertions about India’s sovereignty in Jammu and Kashmir and his belief that Kashmir had no future outside India has understandably come as a shock for his ‘well-wishers’ in the Valley’s separatist and pseudo-separatist camp. It must be embarrassing for the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who, just last fortnight, appreciated the ‘Gupkar Declaration’ and showered praise on the same parties and leaders who for long have been stigmatized as ‘traitors’ and ‘collaborators’. So reactions to Omar’s interview are hysterical but understandable. For over a week, Omar has just retweeted some others’ statements and stopped being obdurate on Article 370.
Omar seems to have realized two very important things: That all the mainstream parties, including the most disenchanted PDP, would jump into the fray as and when elections would be announced; and that NC had no future outside the electoral politics in whatever form. Reading books during detention, he seems to have learned how even his towering grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah, had failed to get the Central laws repealed from 1975 to his death in 1982. He has first-hand experience of how his father, Farooq Abdullah, failed in getting back ‘greater autonomy’ and lifting the J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
In the latest interview, significantly there is no mention of a sine qua non. It makes clear that the Abdullahs and their NC would continue fighting for status quo ante in the Supreme Court, a long drawn exercise, and that the party would not stay away from elections.
Omar has said that his 232-day detention period had made him “bitter, resentful and angry” but not changed his time-tested stand on J&K’s fate and future. “Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India. As much as I would like to say that my detention and the circumstances of the 5th of August have caused me to shift my thinking on that, it hasn’t”, he has said and added: “Because the position I’ve taken takes into account all sorts of factors, and I do not believe that Jammu & Kashmir has a future for itself outside of its relationship with India”.
After Shah Faesal’s resignation from politics, Omar’s new assertions are the second setback to ‘Gupkar Declaration’—a déjà vu in Kashmir’s political history..