The cycle of violence that gripped the Valley in 2010 is a painful memory for former chief minister Omar Abdullah, but as he sees Kashmir erupt again, he finds his successor making the same “mistakes” he did.
“Mehbooba Mufti has made the same mistake as me. I went into a shell in 2010 and she has also withdrawn into a shell. The first 24-48 hours are crucial. That is when your people need to see and hear you,” National Conference leader Abdullah told HT in an exclusive interview at his residence in Srinagar’s Gupkar Road area.
The Abdullah government never really recovered from the political shock of 116 youth being shot dead one after the other that summer, and he’s candid enough to admit he lost the elections in 2014 because he was “punished” for not responding to innocent deaths.
“Mehbooba openly called for my resignation in 2010 but I’m not going to do the same. It is a difficult situation for her to deal with,” he said.
Abdullah said he expected her to learn from his mistakes.
“She should have at least been on television appealing for calm but she seems to have retreated into a shell at a time when she needed to be seen and heard. People call her ‘baaji’ or elder sister but I had no such kind titles coming my way.”
Comparing 2010 to 2016, Abdullah cautioned that while the former was a “demand-specific protest” in which street protests led to deaths, the current phase of violence is plain anger and dangerous because it is “leaderless”.
“In 2010, people wanted those guilty of the Macchil fake encounter to be punished. The protests were organised by separatists and the bar council, but this time people are coming out in the thousands without a leader pushing them to,” he said. He expressed surprise that while he had received a call from Union home minister Rajnath Singh, Mehbooba had neither spoken to him nor called an all-party meeting.
Blaming intelligence agencies for not anticipating the violent backlash to the killing of Kashmir’s poster-boy militant Burhan Wani, the former chief minister, however, said, “This is not the time for politics. I am not demanding her resignation. This is the time for restraint and we (the National Conference) are not going to fan the flames by using this as an opportunity to unseat her.”