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Playing with fire

Questioning J&K merger with India may or may not resurrect Omar Abdullah's political fortunes, but it can provide a leg up to separatists and other anti-Indian elements. Arun Joshi writes.

india Updated: Oct 08, 2010 02:04 IST
Arun Joshi

Is Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah trying to ride the anti-Indian sentiment in the Valley?

Political analysts are still trying to figure out why the staunchly patriotic Abdullah became the first chief minister of the state to criticise those saying "J&K is an integral part of India", and that too on the floor of the Assembly.

"I don't recall any chief minister making such a blunt statement on the accession (of J&K to India)," said Tahir Mohi-ud-Din, a renowned political commentator on Kashmir affairs and editor of Chattan, a leading Urdu weekly.

He attributed Abdullah's comments to the "pressure he was facing because of the current situation in the Valley as also the soft separatism that (main opposition) People's Democratic Party (PDP) has adopted as its policy platform."

Since June 11 this year, a continuing cycle of street agitations, violence, and official retribution has left 110 people, mostly teenagers, dead and the Valley on the boil.

The PDP has repeatedly said the chief minister "has lost all control" – and it's a view that's finding an increasing number of takers.

A senior National Conference politician, speaking to HT on condition of anonymity, said: "He is trying to cover up his failures and regain the political space he has ceded to the separatists and the opposition."

What did he say?
In Wednesday's hard-hitting speech that left both friends and foes stunned, Abdullah said: "The accession of Jammu & Kashmir to India has occurred under an agreement. We have not broken that agreement, nor have we taken it back but you (he pointed towards BJP legislators, but it was widely believed that he was indicating the Centre) have gradually demolished it and people are aggrieved and angry."

"We both were required to uphold and respect the agreement. Many say that much water has flowed down the Jhelum since then. We also agree, but it is still a fact that Jammu & Kashmir's accession to India is under an agreement and it is not the merger," he continued, adding: "It is easy to say that Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India and it sounds nice to the ears, but if there is no doubt in your minds and hearts on this account, why are you saying it time and again?"

"Those who think it is an issue of good governance… they are living in a world of ignorance. Had it been so, then the entire state, including Jammu, Ladakh, Kargil and the rural areas of Kashmir would have been in turmoil during the last three months. Don't you hear or read the slogans of 'Quit Kashmir' and 'Go India Go'…? My being in the seat of the chief minister has nothing to do with the agitation."

He also conceded Pakistan's right to play a role in the dispute. "We want a resolution of the K-issue as would be acceptable to the three regions of Jammu & Kashmir and also to the neighbouring country."

Separatists happy
Abdullah's speech delighted the separatists, who called it a "belated realisation of facts".

"The fact is that the Kashmir dispute is so stark that willingly or unwillingly Omar Abdullah has had to accept that it is an international dispute," said Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference, who makes no secret of his pro-Pakistani views.

"It is a realisation that… Kashmir is an issue that needs to be settled at the international level," said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, head of the moderate All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

"It is good that he is following our line of thinking," he told HT on the phone.

A high-risk strategy
PDP President Mehbooba Mufti felt Abdullah's statement was "part of his efforts to shift the focus away from his mis-governance".

When Abdullah was sworn in as J&K's youngest chief minister (he was 38 then) on January 5, 2009, there was a mood of optimism – that he would bring a healing touch to the troubled state and restore normalcy with his ideas and vision.

"All those hopes have been belied as he has paid no attention to issues of governance. He has squandered the goodwill that was reposed in him by the youth," said Fayaz Ahamad, a resident of Srinagar.

If Abdullah is, indeed, trying to resurrect his faltering political fortunes by co-opting and riding the anti-Indian street sentiment, then it's a high-risk strategy.

Political analysts aren't sure he has the political chutzpah to ride such a tiger safely.

Will this, then, go down as yet another political blunder by a mainstream political party that helps anti-Indian elements?

A definite answer to that will be available only later, but it will take a die-hard optimist to declare that it isn't.