Living on his own terms
They say he has finally emerged from his father’s shadow. But Omar Abdullah says he has always been his own man. He has merely been waiting in the wings to do exactly what he wanted — be a leader.
It’s difficult to throw labels at him. For one, the newly crowned chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir doesn’t see himself as a torch-bearer for the younger generation; instead, he wants to convince people that he can handle the responsibility with maturity.
“I’m really not the youngest chief minister. Prafulla Mahanta, former chief minister of Assam, was 32 when he took over,” says the 38-year-old.
Here’s the thing about Omar — he’s very upfront. Which is what makes him so popular. This was apparent in the speech he made in July 2008 at the trust vote debate in Parliament. That, and the fact that he is the grandson of the ‘lion of Kashmir’, Sheikh Abdullah. “He was appreciated and accepted by not just Kashmiris or Indians, but by the entire world.”
Omar went through college the way he wanted. Although he got into St Stephen’s in New Delhi, he hated it. It was like going back to school, he says — there was roll call and assembly. And he just couldn’t deal with the rules. So he ran off to Sydenham College in Mumbai, where Sharad Pawar was his local guardian.
“That’s where I felt like I was in college. Bunking classes, spending time in the canteen, buying sandwiches outside,” he says, “And of course going to Bade Mian for roti and meat curry... Did I mention bunking classes?”
He didn’t go on to complete his Masters — a misconception he wants to clear. “I could never get around to completing the MBA I began at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, because I was elected to Parliament while at it.”
Omar has come a long way since that shift 10 years ago. Despite his parents’ opposition, he joined politics and strengthened his friendship with Rahul Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia. “We often sit in the Central Hall of Parliament and talk about a whole lot of things from sports to movies to books — anything that people of our age would talk about… Obviously, politics does feature, but not consciously.”
Then there is Omar, the doting father. “I will give my sons (Zamir and Zahir) the best opportunities and guide them. Nobody in my family consciously prepared me for politics, and so it would be for them.”
This man of many parts also knows his way around technology. He has a fan following of over 1,500 on the networking website Facebook, and used to run his own blog until he had to shut it for ‘abuse’. Oh, and he can cook. “One of the things I make is paav bhaji. But I hardly get the time to wear an apron,” he grins.
And he’s acted in a Bollywood film, too. “Apurva Lakhia is my school friend, so I agreed to play myself in Mission Istanbul. Though the film didn’t do very well, I enjoyed watching it. But I’m never going to act again!”
When John Abraham called him the ‘most handsome man I know’, it tickled this well-bred Kashmiri. Clearly pleased with the compliment, he says, “It has nothing to do with me, because all I do is have a bath and brush my hair. If the compliment has to be passed on to anyone, it’s mom and dad. I got the best of both.”