Back to square one

Omar and Kashmir

Last week’s all-party meeting on Kashmir followed the cabinet committee on security, which dithered on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act but said something about ‘governance deficit’ in the state which, in simple English, means that the state government is incompetent, weak or indifferent. The all-party meet was silent on that one.

I am not for a moment suggesting that the participants had been gagged by Rahul Gandhi, who, by hint and gesture, had given his support to Omar Abdullah. Now that he has come out openly in his support, it will be interesting to see whether this reinforcement enables Omar to control the Valley.

Why has it taken New Delhi six weeks to hold such a conclave? Violence was expected on Eid day when 17 people died. Chief minister Omar Abdullah all but threw up his hands.
It all seemed so manageable when I was driving up and down parts of the valley early June. Hotels were full. Queues for a gondola ride up to the higher reaches of Gulmarg were so large you needed a taxi to slot yourself at the very end. Roads looked ample, well paved and the newer houses could well have been located in some of the posh colonies of India’s capital. Hunger was not an issue.

The chain of restaurants with an unlikely name, Hattrick, had spread to over a dozen locations in Srinagar. Some of the management and kitchen staff were non-Kashmiri. “Because our men prefer government jobs,” a professor of political science at the Kashmir University explained. This fixation on ‘government jobs’ resembles an all-India phenomenon about 30 years ago when only ‘government jobs’ were considered secure enough in the controlled marriage market.

All of this normalcy was in large measure neutralised by check posts, sentries, Constantine wires and soldiers ringing the mountains, not always visible but always in everybody’s knowledge.

As for the Kashmiri angst, that anti-India sentiment, it is a phenomenon which waxes and wanes, but is always there. The gloomy turn of events in Pakistan, unfortunate for that country, have denied the Kashmiri of an occasionally flourished Pakistani option. Here was a chance for New Delhi to reach out to people nursing various degrees of grievances since 1953.

Oh, the anger of youth whether in newspaper offices or in university auditoriums! Why can’t ‘Bharat’ let us be? Why are we in this prison house? Do you know that every house in the valley has a painful story to tell? Where was the chief minister during Shopian? There are mini Shopians strewn across the state. Do you know all this?


Sometimes their anger may have been unreasonable. But give them an honest, sincere, hearing and they are willing to be mollified. In fact they bought me a meal just outside the campus — at the Hattrick.

There was no anger with Omar Abdullah then. Yes, Srinagar journalists had begun to call him Pilot project II. The implication was that just as the late Rajesh Pilot was a ‘buddy’ of Farooq Abdullah, so is Sachin Pilot a close friend of Omar’s. Indeed Sachin’s wife is Omar’s sister. Pilot projects were mentioned with humour.

I would be lying if I did not mention one common complaint. Since Omar’s children study in a school in New Delhi, his wife has to live with the kids. This involves his having to spend his weekends in New Delhi — from Friday noon to Monday. As the administration moves to Jammu for six months of winter, the weekly absence of the chief minister leaves the valley without an on-hand administrator for extended spells.

It can be nobody’s case that this is a happy state of affairs, particularly when the valley is in the grip of unspeakable anger and violence which has taken a toll in lives which has touched 100.

It is my belief that both father and son, Farooq and Omar, are not sufficiently ‘provincial’ to manage a province. They are cosmopolitan men with considerable potential on the national turf — and we are short of such personalities on the national stage. Imagine Omar campaigning alongside Rahul Gandhi throughout the country. The minority vote would be electrified — as would voters across the spectrum.

Well, the all party meet has accorded Omar protection to the extent that, if he can, he has a brief chance to redeem himself. It may not have been said but he should know that is the case.

As for New Delhi, the less said the better for its profound inaction. But now that it has stirred, let us keep our fingers crossed.

So far administrative inefficiency, absence of focus, irrelevance of possible moderates like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq have given oxygen to the hardliners. Mirwaiz was invited by New Delhi for ‘top secret’ talks. Then the story was leaked. Mirwaiz’s credibility came hurtling down. And now an FIR against him will not make him a David standing up to the Delhi Goliath!

But slowly, as Kashmir comes sharper into the PMO’s focus, with a possible setting up of a special task force for Kashmir, one must take recourse to all the optimism which lies somewhere at the bottom as a residue.

But let’s not forget, for the politically motivated among the Kashmir protesters an almighty global audience is in readiness.

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