Farooq Abdullah’s bizarre assertion that Article 370 should be restored in Kashmir with China’s help has only re-confirmed what the Bharatiya Janata Party has always believed: the Abdullahs were the biggest problem in Kashmir. The expectation that they could be a part of the solution was a cunning, conniving game the Congress party played for decades, resulting in mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in January 1990 and the three decades of brutal, radicalised insurgency that followed.
On 5 August 2019, when the Narendra Modi government revoked Article 370 and thereby 35A and divided Jammu and Kashmir into union territories, a crucial underlying motive became crystal clear: the BJP didn’t see the Abdullahs or the Muftis as stakeholders in Kashmir. In fact, our resolve is based on the sentiments of the average Kashmiri who has felt betrayed and brokered by both the families – more by the Abdullahs than the Muftis, given their longevity in J&K politics.
Considering that the Abdullahs have always used Kashmir’s special status as a weapon for infinite bargain and blackmail, ignoring the basic developmental needs of the state, they have rightly been eased out of the Valley politics after the legitimate revocation of the contentious articles.
Omar Abdullah has rightly smelt the coffee and chosen to stay away from state politics. Farooq, a sitting MP, in his abject frustration, has made some outrageous comments, for which he can easily be charged with sedition. But we would rather see him bite the dust in his Lok Sabha seat, that is, if he still wishes to contest. Chances are that he will not because he is aware of the changed political mood across Kashmir.
What led to the fall
What is it about the Abdullahs that has led to this irreversible decline? Did they overdo their double-game, while ignoring the genuine aspirations of the people of Kashmir? After all, flirting with India’s enemies is a high-risk game with a limited shelf life. It can’t be employed as a weapon all the time. Abdullahs did it ad nauseam over seven decades, aided by the Congress, leading to the weapon losing its potency.
The Abdullahs’ fascination with China is not new. Sheikh Abdullah went to Algiers in 1965, the year India and Pakistan went to war, and secretly met then-Chinese PM Zhou Enlai, three years after the India-China war. Sheikh was arrested upon his return for three years. This was Sheikh’s second stay in prison after spending about 11 years in the aftermath of the “Kashmir Conspiracy Case” since 1953.
Sheikh was brazen in his politics of using Pakistan to browbeat India. After the 1962 India-China war, he even saw hope in the northern neighbour. The Congress of the day was fully aware of Sheikh’s wily tactics. What was shocking, though, was not Sheikh’s repeated jail terms. It was that the same Congress would resurrect and reinstall him at the helm of affairs in J&K. Jawaharlal Nehru did that in 1963 before his death. Indira entered into an accord with Sheikh in 1975. On both occasions, the Congress could have dispensed with Sheikh Abdullah once and for all. Instead, it chose to play with fire.
After Sheikh Abdullah’s death in 1982, his naive and flamboyant son, Farooq Abdullah, took over as the chief minister of J&K as a matter of natural ascension.
To be fair to Farooq, though, when he took over, his politics was more mainstream than his father’s. He was more aligned to Kashmir’s future being with India than his father ever had been. This could have stemmed from his own ambitions of emerging as a Kashmiri Muslim national leader of India. But that was sufficient to rile an insecure Congress, which had, by then, become subservient to Indira Gandhi’s whims and fancies.
It was reflected in how Farooq’s majority government was dismissed in 1984 by then-governor Jagmohan because the lawmakers had switched sides, only for Farooq to resurrect two years later with the signing of another accord, this time with Rajiv Gandhi.
Kashmir has moved past Abdullahs
This pact, as I had written in an article in 2018, shocked the people of Kashmir, resulting in “a massive consolidation of fundamentalist Islamic forces in the Valley”. The Muslim United Front (MUF), an outcome of this consolidation, gave rise to many leaders who picked up arms against India. The uncertainty and chaos of 1987 was, therefore, to turn into armed militancy of the worst kind in the years to come.
What followed was the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in 1989, leading to the doomed and catastrophic night of 19 January 1990, when slogans of Azadi (freedom) rent the air. The scars of that night, left by the targeting of Kashmiri Pandits by the militants and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, remain unhealed to this date in many Kashmiri Pandit homes. Two days later, in a retaliatory action, about 50 unarmed Kashmiri Muslim protesters were shot dead by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on the Gaw Kadal Bridge.
Farooq Abdullah resigned immediately after the Gaw Kadal massacre, conveniently settled abroad and returned to active politics only when the democratic process was revived in the Valley in 1996.
In the early 1990s, Farooq had deserted Kashmir out of choice. This time around, the Abdullahs don’t have an option. Kashmir is no longer playing ball to them. It has moved way beyond the Abdullahs and the Muftis.
Tuhin Sinha @tuhins is a writer and a national media panelist of the BJP. Views are personal.