The “generational shift” in the National Conference — when party patron Farooq Abdullah decided to step aside and make way for his son Omar Abdullah to become chief minister Jammu and Kashmir — was the result of pressure from younger leaders in his own party, a reading that younger voters favoured him and a nudge from the Congress.
"Omar is a young man and he can serve the state better," Farooq told reporters at his Gupkar Road residence after a breakfast meeting with Omar on Monday. He said he saw a role for himself in national politics.
This marked a major turnaround from his earlier stance that he himself would be the party’s chief ministerial candidate. Farooq had announced his ambitions in an interview to a local TV channel in February 2006. “Omar is shy of mixing with the people,” he had said, and asserted that the “state needed an experienced hand to guide its destiny".
In reiterating this stand on Sunday evening, he was echoing the sentiments of some senior party leaders who had not reconciled to working under Omar, both in the party and government. This had created two groups within the NC — one following the senior Abdullah and other prodding Omar to assert himself.
But what really tilted the decision Omar’s way was the reading that not projecting him as the CM had cost the party the allegiance of the younger voters in rural Kashmir. Thirteen of the 20 seats the NC won in the Valley were in the urban belt. The rural areas gave it just seven seats.
The younger leaders also felt that it was time to project Omar as he had the requisite administrative experience — he was a Union minister in the NDA government. His straightforward and business-like style of functioning, too, worked in his favour.
HT learnt that the Congress was also keen that a “fresh face” lead the state at this critical juncture. Omar, who had hoped to don this mantle six years ago when he was projected as the party’s choice for CM, lost from Ganderbal in 2002. Farooq had not even contested the elections that year.
This time, Farooq, who had been the party’s candidate for the top job, contested from Sonwar and Hazratbal in Srinagar, both NC strongholds, to ensure that he did enter the Assembly.