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Peerzada Ashiq Peerzada Ashiq, Hindustan Times
Srinagar, January 16, 2013
The first major ministerial reshuffle, aimed at the 2014 assembly elections, by chief minister Omar Abdullah sees two significant development in the National Conference (NC) - one, it indicates ailing Farooq Abdullah's major reentry into state politics, and two, Omar dropping much-touted loyal young faces to pave way for old horses, who are known autonomy protagonists.

The induction of 10 fresh faces on Tuesday, seven from the NC and three from the coalition partner Congress, in the council of ministers has showed Omar in a new avatar. Earlier, the chief minister gave sleepless night to his leaders by seeking their resignations and warning against any lobbying for any post ahead of the reshuffle.

When the axe fell on Tuesday, it saw Omar's lieutenant and long-time friend Devender Singh Rana out as political advisor. Rana has been advising the chief minister all these four years, many a time against the grain of the old party men.

In fact, Omar's entire young brigade, he would boast of - Javeed Dar, Nasir Aslam Wani and Agha Ruhullah --- were shown the door.

The reshuffle made it clear that the chief minister is no more listening to its young brigade and once the only advisor Rana.

Who is the mysterious hand behind the hand picking of old party stalwarts? "Yes, Farooq Abdullah played a role," confided in a party worker on the condition of anonymity.

The reshuffle not only retained the two most rumoured to be expelled ministers, Ali Muhammad Sagar and Rahim Rather, but saw entry of senior Abdullah's loyalists Chowdary Ramzan, Mir Saifullah, Ajay Sadhotra and Muhammad Akbar Lone at key ministries.

"All these new faces have Farooq back in command of the state ahead of the 2014 polls," said Naseer Ahmad, a political analysts and journalist.

Sources said senior Abdullah has put his foot down this time to bring the party in line with the demands on the ground ahead of the polls, with many decisions against Omar's understanding of the situation.

The NC will use old stalwarts in key volatile constituencies like north Kashmir's Kupwara, Handwara and Bandipora to fight out separatists with NC's brand of soft separatism.

The NC has already issuing statements against the army in its attempt to raise ante on the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the pending status of the Kashmir problem.

Last week, NC general secretary Sheikh Nazir accused New Delhi of deceiving and backstabbing Kashmiris. Referring to a plebiscite, Nazir said, "Pandit Nehru made a promise to the people of Kashmir at the historic Lal Chowk in Srinagar (on November 18, 1947) that when peace prevails, people would be given a right to choose their fate."

"It was a disgrace for the NC that the party has come down from 68 seats in state assembly in 1996 to only 28 at present," said Nazir, while kicking off a membership drive in separatist bastion Srinagar.

Sources said the newly-inducted NC ministers, who are seasoned, will take the new party line to the grassroots level before the 2014 polls to make inroads into separatist constituencies.