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HomePoliticsWhat Omar Abdullah’s release means for Kashmir, PDP rebels and Mehbooba Mufti

What Omar Abdullah’s release means for Kashmir, PDP rebels and Mehbooba Mufti

Omar Abdullah, who celebrated his 50th birthday on 10 March, was finally released Tuesday after 8 months in detention. 

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Srinagar: Released Tuesday after nearly eight months in detention, National Conference (NC) leader and former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah has a gigantic task at hand. 

He would have to repel the advances of new political players, shape the future of his own party that has so far been steadfast in its support for Article 370, honour the Gupkar declaration, and look out for rivals who have become comrades since the events of August last year. All while adhering to social-distancing norms believed to be key to checking the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Omar was placed in detention in the immediate aftermath of the central government’s 5 August decisions to strip Jammu & Kashmir of its special status and statehood and split it into two union territories. 

A day earlier, representatives of the Valley’s mainstream parties, including Omar’s MP father Farooq Abdullah and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had come together to sign the Gupkar declaration.

The declaration came amid feverish speculation that the central government led by the BJP, whose Lok Sabha polls manifesto promised the revocation of Article 370, would finally make a move in this direction. And the declaration minced few words as it warned against any bid to tinker with the erstwhile state’s special status, saying it would be seen as an act of war against the people.

Soon afterwards, almost the entire political class of Jammu & Kashmir was detained as a bid to ward off potential law-and-order conflagrations in response to the government’s decisions. While several leaders were released in the months since, the brass was in detention until earlier this month, when Farooq became the first senior politician to come out of detention. 

Now, with Omar out too, political activity in the Valley is expected to begin in earnest.

Also Read: With Art 370, BJP hoped to win Kashmir but is now losing Jammu: ‘Are we also anti-national?’

Out at last

Omar, who has been known to maintain a clean-shaven look through his entire stint in public life, reportedly refused to shave in detention, saying he would only do so after his release.

He was almost unrecognisable as he walked out of detention Tuesday, wearing a striped jumper and a beard stretching to his collar.

Among the first things he did following his release was update his Twitter bio to identify himself as “former PSA Political detinue, former CM of J&K state, former Union Minister, former MP, former MLA. Vice President JKNC”.

He tweeted a message of solidarity to party members, and also gushed about his first lunch with his parents in almost eight months. As he weighed in on the COVID-19 crisis, he also snuck in a joke about his stint in detention.

Abdullah’s release comes days after former PDP leader Altaf Bukhari floated the Apni Party, which primarily comprises defectors from the PDP and low-profile members from other political groupings.

There were hardly any prominent names from the NC who joined the Apni Party. This was because it was the first to resume political activity in J&K, where the NC has been among the voices that have opposed the resumption of political activity until all detained leaders are released and Article 370 restored.

Former Congress MLA Usman Majid told ThePrint after the formation of the Apni Party that the leadership was looking for senior faces from other parties to join them — senior leaders who share their vision of moving beyond the call for restoration of Article 370 and resuming political activity in favour of statehood and development.

However, several NC leaders, including Anantnag MP Hasnain Masoodi, Salman Sagar and Imran Dar, have gone on record to say the party structure remains steadfast and there are no loose ends within the region’s oldest political party. 

Then, the Apni Party’s plans for potential defectors from the NC met a hurdle as Farooq, 82, was released just five days after its formation.

The party also had to scale down its Jammu launch amid social-distancing advisories in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Charting National Conference’s future

Many observers in the Valley believe Farooq’s release reignited mainstream politics in general but questions remained about his impact on the politics of not only his party but that of others, including PDP and Peoples Conference, whose leaders remain under detention.

The statements issued by Farooq, who presided over the Gupkar delegation meeting as its most senior Kashmiri politician, have so far not been as aggressive as expected, with the former union minister not even mentioning the declaration.

However, there are some who believe Omar might take a different stance and be a little more aggressive, to avoid the kind of upheaval being witnessed in the PDP as well as to take the Gupkar declaration forward.

Saving rival-turned-allies

Whether they like it or not, for the PDP, Omar’s actions will also have an impact on their future course. The NC’s support to the PDP’s incarcerated chief Mehbooba Mufti could give her much-needed leverage as she comes to terms with the rebellion within her party. 

The central government, a PDP leader said, wanted political activity in Kashmir to resume minus Mehbooba Mufti “because she is considered a greater threat”.

An administration source told ThePrint that there is no plan so far to release Mehbooba, or PDP number two Naeem Akhtar, both of whom have been booked under the draconian Public Safety Act

The outbreak might force the administration to yield, the source added, but it would be an uncomfortable decision.

Sources in the PDP said it was very unlikely that Mehbooba and Akhtar would soften their stand vis-a-vis Article 370, a fact “clearly conveyed to the administration” by the two.

Also Read: In Farooq Abdullah’s silence, lies his acceptance of new realities of Kashmir’s politics


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  1. “Kashmiri students stuck in Bangladesh won’t be brought back to India
    ” Indian government to strictly follow restrictions in movement from across borders, stranded students to be told to go back to hostels.”

    This is the headline from another THE PRINT article yesterday. I hope the above has been brought to the Abdullahs’ attention, and hope they will be able to something about it. If Indians can be rescued from Iran and Italy and other places, then why not the above Kashmiris. Are they not Indians?

  2. If flowing beard minus the AK47, father putting arm round the mother in public, is the new identity for political Kashmir with 370 &35A gone, then it is an obvious and welcome distancing from the jehadi-mulla influence the state was reeling under for years.
    Lock downs of all kinds reveal a lot of things which are otherwise kept under wrap so if the great leaders of the past have anything to hide, they need to watch out. Laws have changed, the protections created have gone and some big names are facing the law which they had avoided for years.

  3. // social-distancing norms believed to be key to checking the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic./
    All is not ‘well wity tye

  4. They have released the Abdullahs and not Mehbooba Mufti. What is the significance of this? Can the BJP afford to alienate a large section of Kashmiris who support PDP? Is this the classic divide-and-rule gameplan? Abdullahs will have to forget their old rivalry with PDP, and join hands with it to counter Amit Shah’s foolish maneuverings which he thinks are very clever. Mass sentiment in Kashmir valley is against the BJP. If Abdullahs fall for any BJP lure, if they are seen by the Kashmiris as BJP’s pawns in the new game that is unfolding, they will be committing political harakiri. The only option left for them then will be to go and sattle down in London.

  5. The release of father and son signals that no alternate politics in Kashmir has a chance of either credibility or success. The state has been put through so much for objectives that remain unclear.

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