Omar Abdullah set to be J&K’s youngest CM | india | Hindustan Times
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Omar Abdullah set to be J&K’s youngest CM

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 the CM — was the result of pressure from younger leaders in his own party, report Arun Joshi & Rashid Ahmad. Omar's life and career

india Updated: Dec 30, 2008 10:31 IST
Arun Joshi & Rashid Ahmad

On Monday morning, Omar Abdullah got a phone call from his father, National Conference patriarch Dr Farooq Abdullah. Come and have breakfast with me, the senior Abdullah said. He had declared on TV a day earlier that he was the party’s candidate for chief minister. It was at this breakfast meeting with his son that Dr Farooq said he had decided Omar should be chief minister.

“I tried to convince him otherwise, but he said it was important that I become the CM and he would like to work in the state for the party and play a role at the national and international level,” Omar told HT in an exclusive interview. Dr Farooq is “in all likelihood” going to the Rajya Sabha, Omar added.

During the day, Dr Farooq had told his side of the story to reporters. “The time has now come…I thought over the issue during the night,” he said.

He didn't disclose what swayed his decision to step aside in favour of his son. Sources in the NC said it could have been brought about by persuasion by senior leaders who told Dr Farooq that Omar, being young (he is 38) and energetic could prove better for the party and state.

<b1>They are reported to have argued that Omar would have direct appeal for the young population of Kashmir. Of the valley’s 40 lakh population, around 15 lakh is between the ages of 20 and 40. Many of these people came out to vote in the recent elections, when turnout was 62 per cent — the highest since 1987.

Omar, who came to Delhi on Monday evening to meet with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is likely to have greater appeal for the Congress as well. The party that holds the key to power in Jammu & Kashmir with its 17 MLAs has had a seesawing relationship with Farooq Abdullah in the past.

Omar parries mention of this by saying, “It is not necessary that if something went wrong in the past, it will be repeated again.” But he adds: “There is a generational shift. I am hoping to work with the likes of Rahul Gandhi in the Gandhi family.”

Whether this will come to pass is yet unknown. At the time of going to press, the Congress had still not announced any decision on which party it would support. It will do so on Tuesday when the Congress Core Committee, which includes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia and five other senior leaders, meets for a decision.

The People’s Democratic Party has offered unconditional support to union minister Saifuddin Soz as chief minister.

Party spokesman Manish Tiwari said in Delhi, “All options are open at this juncture”. He also said the Congress had nothing to do with the NC’s choice of chief ministerial candidate.

In the event that Omar does become chief minister, he will have a huge burden of expectation on his shoulders. Apart from the masses who came out to vote, even the separatists have expectations from him. Hurriyat Conference chairman Syed Ali Geelani told a TV channel, “The people and we are expecting him to work for good governance and solving daily problems.”

That may be a while coming, but the shifting expectations show that change has come to Jammu and Kashmir.