Abdullah's detention: A new addition to New Delhi's love-hate relationship with National Conference
A look at the relationship between the Abdullahs and the National Conference, and the central government in New Delhi.
Former Chief Minister and National Conference (NC) president Dr Farooq Abdullah is a free man now. While the sudden release of Abdullah senior baffles political pundits in the Valley, there has always been a love-hate relationship between New Delhi and NC. However, it was for the first time over the nearly four decades-long political career of Abdullah that he was subjected to incarceration for a good seven months.
In the last week of July 2019, the opposition political parties in Jammu and Kashmir had deep apprehensions that the ruling dispensation had something up its sleeve. And when the balloon went up on August 5, hundreds of political leaders, including the NC patriarch, were collared.
"It is the job of political analysts to analyse and construe the sudden release of Farooq Sahab, but NC has been witnessing such arbitrary moves by New Delhi since 1953", said a senior NC leader, who declined to be quoted.
After the death of his father Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1982, Farooq Abdullah was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. A year after taking over from his father, he got a bitter taste of New Delhi's political chicanery.
In the fall of 1983, Abdullah was accused by the Congress government of losing his grip over the administration and endorsing the Sikh insurgency in Punjab. He was also blamed for having links with the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front following the abduction and subsequent killing of 47-year-old Indian diplomat Ravindra Mahatre in Birmingham.
The accusations came close on the heels of Abdullah showing interest in the politics of some new regional parties emerging on the political landscape of many states outside Jammu and Kashmir. Although Abdullah vehemently denied the charges, the Congress went ahead, mapping out its plan for overthrowing his government.
In July 1984, the Congress finally pulled the plug on the alliance with the NC and made G.M Shah, the estranged brother-in-law of Farooq Abdullah, the Chief Minister of the state, with the help of 12 defectors from the NC. The family coup tailored by the ruling dispensation in New Delhi elicited strong reactions from Abdullah's supporters, who alleged that the party had not been given a chance to prove its majority on the floor of the house.
"All the allegations were unfounded. The Congress wanted to demonize Farooq Sahab and project him as an anti-national only to justify its unconstitutional move", says Mustafa Kamal, senior National Conference leader and brother of Abdullah. Kamal added that New Delhi had always adopted devious ways to muzzle the voice of the NC which represented the true aspirations of the people.
"It has remained New Delhi's approach towards Kashmir and NC since 1953 when it first toppled the government of Sheikh Sahab and jailed him, and then doing it again in 1977", Kamal points out.
After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, New Delhi again turned to the National Conference. Abdullah and Rajiv Gandhi had been good friends for a long time and when the latter became prime minister, he edged Shah out of the office and signed an accord with Abdullah in 1986 called the Rajiv-Farooq accord. Abdullah was reinstated as the Chief Minister.
During the controversial 1987 elections, Congress again decided to move with the NC and formed a pre-poll alliance with the party. The NC-Congress combine swept the polls by routing the Muslim United Front (MUF), an alliance that fought the elections. The polls were. however, marked by rampant fraud. The massive electoral rigging was largely responsible for sparking off the armed struggle in the Valley. The NC-Congress government lasted for nearly 2 years and the state was put under the president's rule in the bedlam unleashed by militancy.
As Abdullah left for London, there was hardly any political activity in the Valley for six long years. New Delhi was desperate to strike a chord with the people of Kashmir.
Former Prime Minister P.V.Narsimha Rao's 1995 announcement is still ringing in the minds of people in Kashmir. He had said in Burkina Faso that the sky was the limit when it came to granting autonomy to the region.
In 1996, the H.D. Deva Gowda government somehow prodded Abdullah into contesting the elections, promising greater autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. The same year NC had boycotted the Lok Sabha polls.
"There was a total collapse of mainstream politics in Kashmir at that time as the militancy was at its peak and the National Conference, being a strong cadre-based party, was the only choice before the government of India to counter the separatist politics in the Valley ", says Prof. Rekha Choudary, former head of Department of Political Science at Jammu university. She adds that there was some understanding of the autonomy between the NC and the government.
Four years after the elections were held, the state assembly passed the autonomy resolution on June 26, 2000. But it was summarily rejected by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government, even though the NC was also part of the government.
Kashmir-based political observer Shahnawaz Mantoo says that since the first prime minister of India, there has always been a love-hate relationship between New Delhi and National Conference.
"The incarceration of senior and junior Abdullah is just a new addition to such an on-again-off-again relationship between New Delhi and NC", Mantoo observed. He added that although Abdullah's sudden release sprang a surprise to many, nothing could be said for sure about the new direction of politics in Jammu and Kashmir unless all the leaders who were part of the Gupkar declaration walk out of their confinement.