Omar Abdullah Family's Political Legacy And Kashmir's Election Dynamics: Navigating Post-370 Realities | NewsX Exclusive

The issues in the Kashmir Valley differ significantly from those in the rest of India. While discussions about the Ram Mandir and caste surveys dominate elsewhere, the focus in Kashmir revolves around local concerns such as the restoration of statehood, security, regular electricity supply, employment opportunities, and education. Despite an increase in tourism post-370, areas like Lal Chowk still witness military convoys and a visible army presence, although instances of hartals and stone-pelting have decreased.

In an exclusive interview with NewsX, Omar Abdullah, born March 10, 1970, served as the youngest Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, leading a coalition government with the Congress in 2009. He was a prominent member of the National Conference and represented Srinagar in the 14th Lok Sabha. Abdullah began his political career in 1998, holding various positions, including Union Minister of State for External Affairs. Arrested under the Public Safety Act in 2020, he later resumed political activities. Ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Abdullah opposed seat-sharing agreements, advocating for the National Conference to contest all seats in Kashmir spoke with Priya Sahgal, Editorial Director.

When questioned “This is the first election post-370.So, you know, first reaction to that, what made you contest this election?” He said ,  Contesting the election in Baramulla, chosen by the party, marks a significant shift post-370 abrogation in August 2019. Without the previous constitutional safeguards, the Union Territory faces altered political dynamics and gerrymandering favoring the BJP. Despite challenges, there’s a surge of enthusiasm among National Conference cadres, observed across constituencies like Anantnag and Srinagar, including those where support extends to Congress candidates. This heightened zeal indicates a strong grassroots mobilization effort, reflecting the transformed landscape of Kashmiri politics post-reorganization.

The decision to allocate seats to Congress, despite their uphill battle in regions dominated by BJP victories, was strategic rather than solely based on potential outcomes. In Jammu and Udhampur, where BJP repeated candidates, and in Ladakh, facing a new contender, Congress faced tough challenges. However, it was imperative to prevent BJP from gaining undue advantage by contesting all six seats, a move that would have played into BJP’s hands. The tougher fight posed by the India bloc to BJP underscores the significance of this strategic decision. The conversation briefly shifts to the scenic surroundings, transitioning to the northernmost part of the valley, Matshil, situated near the Line of Control in Kupwara district. The area, encompassing Tangdar, Kheran, Matshil, and Gurez, is remote and strategically significant. This geographical context adds depth to the political discourse, highlighting the multifaceted challenges and strategies at play in the election narrative.

When questioned “I found a huge change, you know, there was more life on Lal Chowk,  people were roaming around more at night. maybe the law and orders improved, anything?” He said , While acknowledging the absence of prevalent stone pelting and protests post-August 5, 2019, it’s crucial to recognize that normalcy prevailed in Kashmir even before that date. Periods of relative calm were evident in years preceding 2019, notably in 2011, 2012, and parts of 2013 until interrupted by the devastating floods of 2014. Claims of newfound vibrancy in markets and tourism, while partly true, are inflated by a change in counting methodology. The government’s decision to include Mata Vaishnodevi yatris as tourists artificially boosts tourism numbers, though their contribution beyond pilgrimage activities is minimal. Historically, yatris were excluded from tourist counts due to their limited engagement with local attractions. The government’s tactic echoes a pattern of manipulating statistics to portray favorable narratives, reminiscent of previous instances such as GDP and employment figures. This underscores a broader skepticism towards government assertions and highlights the need for critical analysis when interpreting purported progress or achievements in the region.

Furthermost asked ” In terms of elections, what made you contest this election and not wait for the assembly election?” He told , While speculation regarding my future role often leans towards chief ministership, I’ve made it unequivocally clear that I won’t contest assembly elections in a union territory. Having previously served as chief minister in a more empowered state, the current status of Jammu and Kashmir, stripped of its statehood, offers limited scope for effective governance. The timeline for assembly elections has been set by the Supreme Court, highlighting the government’s reluctance to facilitate democratic processes.

The outcome of these elections will significantly influence the prospects of statehood restoration. If a non-BJP government assumes power, there’s a higher likelihood of reinstating statehood sooner, possibly even before elections. Conversely, if the BJP retains power, statehood may be restored post-elections. Despite the challenging political landscape, we remain committed to representing and improving the lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Amidst the campaign trail, the unique terrain of Northern Kashmir provides a striking backdrop, showcasing both the challenges and the beauty of the region.

Further  asked “But, you know, coming to Sajjad, I don’t want to bring some heat into the campaign.  I have been talking to him and he has been, of course, the allegations that Omar is an outsider  and what does he know about this area. He belongs to Srinagar.He is a Delhi man.” In response to allegations of being an outsider, I assert my insider status in Kashmir, rejecting attempts to discredit my candidacy. The need for collaboration between the state and the center is acknowledged, particularly for regions like Jammu and Kashmir, where the central government wields significant influence. However, the nature of this relationship depends on the approach of the union government post-elections. Regarding the broader political landscape, the BJP’s efforts to polarize the Hindu-Muslim narrative have intensified, raising concerns about electoral tactics. Despite hopes that such rhetoric signifies BJP’s vulnerability, past experiences caution against premature assumptions.

Additionally, Prime Minister Modi’s recent remarks targeting corporate giants like Ambani and Adani have stirred surprise and speculation. While his words are meticulously chosen, the motives behind such statements remain unclear. The forthcoming elections carry implications for Kashmir, with BJP suggesting the imminent restoration of statehood. However, questions linger regarding the initial revocation of statehood and the benefits accrued from the transition to a Union Territory. These concerns highlight the need for clarity and accountability in political discourse. The timing of statehood reinstatement hinges on electoral outcomes, underscoring the significance of political shifts at the national level. Ultimately, the fate of Kashmir’s political status rests on electoral results and the subsequent actions of the ruling government.

While asking  about Statehood, he stated (“Do you think the statehood can be done before the Assembly?”) Statehood could be restored before Assembly elections, but BJP is unlikely to act. Omar Abdullah refrains from Assembly candidacy until the Union Territory status changes. Despite recent visits to Lal Chowk showing slight improvements, Jammu and Kashmir’s true condition extends beyond the city center. Issues persist, including youth unemployment and infrastructure deficiencies like erratic electricity supply, contradicting perceived progress. Abdullah emphasizes that Lal Chowk doesn’t represent the entire region’s reality, urging a deeper understanding of Kashmir’s challenges beyond superficial observations.

Omar Abdullah’s sons, Zahir and Zamir, are assisting him on the campaign trail, transitioning from legal practice in Delhi to support their father’s electoral efforts. While not aspiring politicians, both brothers are lawyers deeply engaged in their legal careers, now shifting focus to Srinagar. They emphasize the intertwining of law and politics, actively addressing election-related legal matters like EC complaints during the campaign. While Zahir concurs with his father’s current stance of eschewing politics, he considers it premature to rule out future political involvement, highlighting a commitment to support the party and his father’s candidacy in Baramulla. Zamir echoes this sentiment, emphasizing their readiness to contribute however needed, from legal assistance to practical tasks like operating cameras. Their dedication stems from a shared conviction to bolster the party amidst challenges, particularly in the aftermath of Article 370’s revocation and its impact on Kashmiri people. Their multifaceted involvement underscores a familial dedication to their father’s political endeavors and the broader cause of safeguarding their party’s interests in a turbulent political landscape.

The journey for Zahir and Zamir Abdullah began at the Supreme Court, where they assisted in the legal battle surrounding Article 370. Despite setbacks, they remain committed to advocating for the people’s voice. Their involvement in elections stemmed from the belief that it’s a platform to amplify the people’s concerns. Regarding their father’s detention, they faced communication hurdles and strict surveillance. Even though not detained themselves, their movements were closely monitored, reflecting the extent of the situation’s impact on their family. Their names, both beginning with ‘Z,’ reflect their father’s approach to security. Despite challenges, their dedication to supporting their father and the party remains unwavering. Omar Abdullah’s speech highlighted the family’s legacy of prioritizing development in remote areas. This commitment resonated with the audience, showcasing the enduring connection between the Abdullah family and the region’s progress. The mention of initiatives like solar panels underscores the family’s contributions to local development, reinforcing their ties to the community. Overall, the Abdullah family’s deep-rooted connection to the area and commitment to its welfare resonated strongly during the rally.

Farooq Abdullah underscores his family’s historical ties to remote areas, highlighting his grandfather’s efforts to uplift them from poverty since the 1950s. He emphasizes the importance of continued government support for these regions. Responding to Amit Shah’s speech about BJP’s plans regarding minority quotas, Abdullah criticizes BJP’s longstanding targeting of Muslims, contrasting it with Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ideals of democracy and humanity. He suggests that true democracy in Kashmir hinges on fair assembly elections and emphasizes the region’s cultural commitment to humanity. Expressing hope for change, Abdullah believes the upcoming elections offer an opportunity for BJP’s defeat, aligning with the aspirations of the India bloc and their electorate. He comments on the election narrative, noting BJP’s shift from Mandal to Kamandal, indicating potential electoral vulnerabilities. However, he cautions against wishful thinking, awaiting the election results for clarity. Umar Abdullah reflects on the nexus between development and elections, acknowledging the significance of emotions but also recognizing that mere development doesn’t guarantee electoral success. Overall, the conversation captures the complex dynamics of Kashmiri politics, including historical legacies, electoral strategies, and the intertwined themes of democracy, humanity, and development.

The issues in the Kashmir Valley differ significantly from those in the rest of India. While discussions about the Ram Mandir and caste surveys dominate elsewhere, the focus in Kashmir revolves around local concerns such as the restoration of statehood, security, regular electricity supply, employment opportunities, and education. Despite an increase in tourism post-370, areas like Lal Chowk still witness military convoys and a visible army presence, although instances of hartals and stone-pelting have decreased. Notably, none of the national parties contest from the Valley, with the BJP and Congress refraining from fielding candidates. Instead, the Congress has aligned with the National Conference, primarily contesting seats in Jammu. The elections are viewed as semifinals for the assembly, determining who can effectively represent Kashmir in Parliament and facilitate post-370 healing. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, with his governance experience and deep-rooted family connections, is seen as a potential candidate to navigate Kashmir’s future. Machal, a border town where Abdullah and Sajjad Toan are contesting, highlights the absence of BJP and Congress candidates despite their rhetoric about “Naya Kashmir.” While improvements are noted, locals stress that more progress is needed before the vision of a revitalized Kashmir can be realized. This insight, gleaned from conversations with residents, underscores the complexity of Kashmir’s situation beyond Lal Chowk.