Five Years On, Omar Retains Grip on Valley, But Just About
By Fayaz Wani - SRI NAGAR
Published: 05th Jan 2014 08:59:39 AM
He was the youngest Chief Minister of the state at 38. He had credible political experience (as minister of state for external affairs in the Vajpayee-led NDA government). Revolutionary changes were expected in governance. That was five years ago. As Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah completes five of his six-year term in office on January 5 with Assembly elections slated for sometime late in November, precious little seems to have changed in the state during the time he has been at the helm. His report card is a mixed bag, his tenure a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows.
Omar’s maiden flight hit turbulence from the word go. In June 2009, the Shopian killings led to widespread and violent civilian protests in the Valley and shutdowns and curfews. Within six months of taking charge, the singed CM threw in his papers after the Opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) dragged his name into the infamous April 2006 sex scandal.
On July 28, 2009, senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig alleged that Omar’s name figured in the list of accused prepared by the CBI. A visibly upset Omar, who contested the 2008 elections on the plank of sadak (road), bijli (electricity) and pani (water), told the House he won’t return till his name was cleared. However, he resumed work after Governor N N Vohra rejected his resignation and then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram gave him a clean chit saying his name didn’t figure in the list of the 17 accused.
The next year brought fresh trials as Kashmir was hit by yet another round of civilian unrest after an alleged fake encounter involving the Indian Army. Political opponents berated Omar for being too dependent on the Indian government. He was accused of not doing enough to control the civilian killings during the 2010 stone-pelting agitations. Only after the Union Home Ministry intervened, critics said the state government took measures to end the unrest.
One of the major lows of his governance was the death of National Conference (NC) worker Haji Mohammad Yousuf. The 61-year-old businessman was summoned by the CM to his Gupkar residence on September 29, 2011, following a complaint that Yousuf had collected `84 lakh for an MLC seat. He was taken into police custody where he later died. The Opposition and Yousuf’s family cried “custodial killing”. In December 2012, an inquiry commission probing the matter cleared Omar’s name.
On the upside, his government deserves credit for successfully holding panchayat polls in the state after nearly three decades. The 80 per cent turnout was laudable given that militant groups and separatists had asked people to “boycott” the polls.
“Besides, the government has started several schemes including the Sheri Kashmir Employment and Welfare Programme for Youth (SKEWPY), which has generated about one lakh job opportunities,” said Omar’s uncle and senior National Conference leader Mustafa Kamal. He added that had there been no coalition with Congress, things would have been far better.
According to Kamal, the government has identified and started new power projects, which can make J&K a power surplus state in the coming years. “Jammu and Kashmir will be generating about 9,000MW in the next seven years,” he said, adding that not a single power project was started during Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s or Ghulam Nabi Azad’s regime.
The Omar government has also demanded return of three power projects from NHPC—Dulhasti, Salal and Uri-I. Omar also introduced the State Hydro Electric Projects Development Policy in 2011. The 93MW New Ganderbal, 60MW Parnai and 48MW Lower Karnai power projects were tendered out the same year. Kamal claimed security in the state too has improved.
However, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which has always been a sore point between the Centre and the state, is expected to remain. “We are hopeful that during continued talks with the Centre, Omar would be able to convince them to lift the law,” said Kamal.
Another achievement for the National Conference government has been the train service between Banihal and Baramulla that was flagged off on June 26, 2013. The Katra-Banihal section, comprising the highest bridge across the Chenab, is considered the toughest portion of the Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla link. It is expected to be completed by December 2017, thus linking Kashmir by train with the country.
“Omar’s five-year tenure has been neither very extraordinary nor very bad,” felt political analyst Noor Mohammad Baba, who heads the political science department of University of Kashmir. He added that while may have had high expectations from Omar one shouldn’t expect revolutionary changes in Jammu and Kashmir because the political situation in the state was different compared to the rest of the country. He added that Omar may have not tackled issues like demilitarisation and AFSPA successfully, but “both were very complex issues that needed lot of discussion”.
He felt the previous governments functioned in a far more favourable atmosphere. “Indo-Pak ties were not so strained and the situation within the state was also conducive. Omar government had to control public anger, civilian killings and unrest in first two years.”
Asked whether NC will reap benefits or be drubbed at the hustings, Baba said, “It is too early to say. There are a number of factors including coalition and anti-incumbency”.
He said the Omar government could announce some sops, including employment packages, to garner more support.