SRINAGAR: On November 26, Farooq Abdullah, a three-time chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and president of the opposition National Conference, dared the central government to hoist the national flag in Srinagar before unfurling it in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). On November 11, Abdullah had said that PoK belonged to Pakistan and J&K to India, and this could not be changed even by going to war with Pakistan.
These and other controversial statements by the 80-year-old leader are being seen as an attempt by him to make a comeback in state politics, especially in Kashmir, where more than five months of unrest following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces on July 8, 2016 rendered the mainstream camp “irrelevant”.
At least 92 civilians were killed, more than 15,000 injured, and over two dozen people blinded by pellets during the unrest. Civilians have been killed this year as well, and the people, especially the youth, are angry with the mainstream camp.
Abdullah is said to be trying to play the Kashmiri nationalism and “soft separatist” cards to make a comeback in the Valley and make his party relevant once again in its political scene.
Political analyst Aadil Ahmad said that mainstream politicians in the Valley had always thrived on pro-separatist politics, especially when they were out of power. “Mehbooba played the same card when her party was in the opposition. Abdullah is a shrewd politician and knows what sells in Kashmir. He is playing the pro-separatist card in vote bank politics, and the more anti-India statements he makes, the more he puts Mehbooba in a tight corner,” Ahmad said.
Abdullah’s politics, it seems, is paying off. On October 29 this year, Abdullah’s NC organised an impressive delegate session in Srinagar. About 15,000 delegates from different parts of the state attended the event. It was the biggest gathering for any political party in Kashmir since the unrest following the killing of Wani.
Abdullah has defended his statements, saying that he is not being irrational. “When I say something, I speak because of what I see. I see the tragedy my people have to face not only in the Valley, but also in other parts of the state, including on the borders, where our soldiers and civilians are dying in cross-border firing,” he said.
“I am not saying anything irrational. For 70 years, PoK has been a part of Pakistan and this has been a part of India. Four wars have been fought, and in these four wars nothing has happened. They hold their territory and we ours. Wars cannot solve the problem. It increases the tragedies,” Abdullah said. “We have to find ways and means of talking and finding a final solution to the Kashmir issue acceptable to the people of J&K, India and Pakistan,” he said.
Senior NC leader Chaudhary Muhammad Ramzan said Abdullah’s recent statements were in line with the Centre’s appointment of former Information Bureau Director Dineshwar Sharma as an interlocutor on Kashmir.
“The interlocutor has to listen to every shade of opinion in Kashmir, and what Farooq is saying represents the party’s opinion,” Ramzan said.
However, the BJP’s chief spokesman, Sunil Sethi, said that since the state was moving towards normalcy, in the changed scenario the NC was becoming irrelevant. “The party has realised that it has become politically irrelevant. Now Farooq is trying to move closer to Hurriyat and separatist politics to gain politically,” he said.