Omar Abdullah is doing nothing to milk PDP-BJP impasse
With 15 legislators by his side, the former CM can experiment. Is he ready?
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Soon after Omar Abdullah formed government in 2009 with the Congress in spite of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)'s overtures to the ally, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed did what NC is doing today at a much smaller scale. He would convene conventions in different districts to explain self-rule and what he meant by it. The NC these days issues statements seeking the restoration of autonomy. Out of power, both the parties in the Valley follow the same pattern.
Those days PDP would often invite its workers for deliberations. The exercise, however, didn't last long. The PDP made serious attempts to bring Omar Abdullah down. In 2009, senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig gave a speech on human rights violations and the responsibility of the ruler in J&K Assembly. He said, whether young or old, a chief minister is a chief minister and has duties and responsibilities.
He ended his speech by talking about a sexual exploitation case of 2006 and named Omar Abdullah as one of the accused. Omar, who was taking notes to respond to Baig, was shocked by the accusation. He couldn't utter a word for few moments. And then he stood up to say that he would meet the governor to resign because when such accusations are made, a man is guilty till proven innocent.
He met the governor, tendered conditional resignation and gained the people's sympathy for the act.Omar Abdullah with Rahul Gandhi at an election rally in 2014.
Omar Abdullah as chief minister survived the opposition of the PDP and ruled the state for six years in spite of 2010 stone pelting unrest when under his rule, according to government figures alone, close to 112 youth were killed by the police and paramilitary forces on the streets of the Valley.
He didn't resign, but he did say his heart would bleed for every killing and promised probe and action. The probe is such that even today the government pleads the cases of the cops accused in the killings of teenagers including Wamiq Farooq.
That is routine practice of probes in J&K.
Ultimately, after six years, when the Assembly elections were held, Omar found his party reduced to 15 seats from 56 in 1996. The parliamentary elections of 2014 gave his party a shock as NC lost all three seats in Kashmir, including Srinagar.
Omar was expecting the party to score zero in the Assembly elections, but when it got 15 seats and the PDP managed 28, he was giggling like a child - perhaps wanting to say that PDP had failed to decimate his party.
The PDP took two months to form an alliance with the BJP and came up with an Agenda of Alliance. In the nine-month rule of late CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the PDP failed to see any progress on the Agenda of Alliance; instead, it found itself embroiled in controversy after controversy from the state flag to the beef ban.
But after the death of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on January 7, the PDP leadership has sought assurances on the Agenda of Alliance. The PDP's opponents see it as part of a drama being played out by Mehbooba Mufti. Whether the PDP goes with the BJP again or breaks the alliance, the party can argue that it re-negotiated the Agenda of Alliance and projected it as part of its commitment towards the party's political and economic goals.
In these nine months, Omar Abdullah has made few speeches. Whether in Assembly or outside, the former CM would often deliver good speeches. He would say Kashmir is not an issue of development. But it is a political issue that needs resolution.
He said it before Manmohan Singh when the latter was prime minister. Now in the Opposition, Abdullah seems to have lost the plot.
As his six-year rule ultimately brought the PDP to power in the state, he thinks he won't have to do anything more for a few years as the PDP-BJP alliance continues and will, by default, bring him back to power.
Since the PDP-BJP alliance is being described as "unpopular" by none other than Mehbooba Mufti herself, Omar apparently presumes that by default, NC would replace the PDP as the latter has gone against its election promises and joined hands with the BJP.
So all Omar Abdullah does these days is keep track of the movements of Ram Madhav and inform people about his meetings with PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, and about when she leaves for New Delhi.
Even the CID is tired of keeping track of PDP and BJP leaders, but Omar is not.
Asked about his political future after his loss in 2014 parliamentary elections, Omar Abdullah had told reporters that age was on his side. Yes, age is an advantage and the former CM has 15 other legislators for support; the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly has 87 seats. No doubt there is not much difference in the vote share of the PDP and the NC in previous Assembly elections, but the fact is the NC has been pushed to margins by Mehbooba's party.
In a scenario where despite an alliance with the BJP, Mehbooba Mufti has conveyed to her constituency that she won't hesitate to defy New Delhi, what is the NC leadership doing to rebuild the party apart from Omar Abdullah visiting his constituency a record 72 times?
Criticism and condemnation of political rivals is part of being the Opposition.
But can it help National Conference, which has never gone in for a purge?
Omar Abdullah repeatedly talked about introspection. Firing Twitter salvos at the PDP seems the only kind of introspection he can show.
The former J&K CM has an opportunity in the PDP-BJP alliance. The alliance doesn't even need an opposition as the two allies continue to work in opposite directions.
In such a situation, the NC president has a choice - he can give up those party leaders whose only contribution to the state is to amass wealth.
Mainstream political parties have become the last refuge of scoundrels. Can Omar begin by denying them refuge? With 15 legislators, he can experiment. Is he ready?
In these two months, we heard that Mehbooba Mufti has reportedly told her MLAs that they could leave if they wished to form a government with the BJP and that she would rebuild her party on her own.
Whether it is true or part of the PDP's perception game, the question that remains is: Can Omar Abdullah ask his defeated colleagues to step down and let him build a party that is different from the one he led from 2008 to 2014.