Before the assembly elections, Omar Abdullah was president of the National Conference, while his father Farooq was chief ministerial candidate. Post elections father and son have switched places. While Omar is chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, his father on Sunday was named ‘working president’ of the party — a preliminary step before he is formally elected president.
With dissensions in his own party, a resurgent opposition in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — which increased both its seat tally and its vote percentage in the last election, even if it was unable to form the government — and the unresolved Kashmir issue still a painful thorn, Farooq Abdullah, 73, has his task cut out for him. Excerpts from an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times:
What will your new role be?
My first task will be to strengthen the party, throw out all the turncoats who have worked against us. As chief minister, Omar has a very heavy workload and a host of responsibilities. By taking over the party, I hope to share his burden. Once things improve he can take over as party president again.
Your party had chosen you as chief ministerial candidate before the polls. What prompted the change of mind later?
I had decided much earlier that even if the National Conference wins an absolute majority, I would not stay as chief minister for more than one year. I would have handed over power to Omar even then. But the results showed there would have to be a coalition government. When Omar came to see me, I told him ‘I cannot handle coalition governments any more’. He has some ideas of his own, and I named him as the chief ministerial nominee.
But you have worked with the Congress before...
I have worked with all parties. I am not going to advise Omar on running a coalition. I don’t want to be a backseat driver. Instead I want to be a bridge between him and the party. Once you rise to become CM and have that security network around you, you get cut off from the people. That has to be avoided.
Is Omar’s becoming chief minister a mission accomplished for you?
Yes, it’s a mission accomplished. It doesn’t often happen that a father sees his son becoming chief minister in lifetime. I have seen it. I am proud of Omar.
Will you continue to play golf?
Of course. That’s for health. I am diabetic. I must play golf.