In 1996 when Government of India (GoI) was struggling to find a suitable face to lend credibility to electoral process in Jammu and Kashmir, National Conference (NC) patriarch Farooq Abdullah was the last bet. He became indispensable when a top separatist leader backed out from “burning his fingers” despite a “deal” that was struck. The other option was infamous counter insurgent leader Kukka Parray but he was already a social outcast notwithstanding the fact that he was later elected as Member of Legislative Assembly from Sonawari assembly segment in the same election that brought Farooq Abdullah back as Chief Minister. Farooq had fled Kashmir in the wake of armed rebellion that broke out in his tumultuous tenure from 1987-89, but was reluctant to join the electoral bandwagon without any “political concession” and restoration of greater autonomy was the biggest bargain for him.
Farooq was persuaded as New Delhi had lost its face in Kashmir. After the then Prime Minister P V Narsimha Rao’s famous pronouncement that “Sky is the Limit” for autonomy, he was lured to the business. His party had boycotted parliament elections in May 1996 and was “adamant” on assurance to restore the political status of the state. Farooq was baptised again in the mainstream political narrative exactly the way his father Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was in 1975 by the same party –Congress, the only difference was that it was Indira Gandhi who handled Sheikh, in case of Farooq the level of persuasion was at the lower level. During his Chief Ministership from 1996 to 2002, Farooq would vow to be Indian by heart and for that he not only turned a blind eye towards the way the security establishment delivered in Kashmir particularly through the infamous Special Operations Group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir Police. He silently accepted all those sins committed in the name of restoration of normalcy in Kashmir which inter alia were to protect the sovereignty of India.
Farooq Abdullah’s discourse, throughout his Chief Ministership was to tackle the militancy with iron hand and even bombard Pakistan and the Kashmir part it administered as according to him terror stemmed from there only. This is what he said on October 20, 2001 in Jammu.
“If the United States can strike Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks, why cannot we take action against terrorists operating from Pakistan,'' asked Farooq talking to reporters at a party function.
“It was high time army action was taken against terrorist organisations and their training camps operating from Pakistan occupied Kashmir and other places in Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir had witnessed much bloodshed during the last 12 years and there could be no endless patience. Our capacity of tolerance has exhausted. Now is the time for retaliation with full vigour and vitality and we should destroy the training camps in PoK.''
In fact this cost him the power in 2002 assembly elections as people failed to digest too much of anti-Pakistan rhetoric. After Narsimha Rao’s promise of considering autonomy, followed by Prime Minister Deve Gowda government’s assurance, he too forgot to pursue it even when the time was ripe. It was the occasion when Assembly passed the resolution with majority but was summarily rejected by then A B Vajpayee government at centre in 2000. Taking cudgels with New Delhi after 1984 coup engineered against him by Congress party was something he would not even think of. He was often quoted as saying that if you want to be in power in Jammu and Kashmir you have to be on the right side of the centre. And that has been unmistakably followed by all Chief Ministers including him, his son Omar Abdullah, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and now his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. Ghulam Nabi Azad did not need to do so as he was from and of the centre.
Given his charm and audacity to call a spade a spade or not shying away from doing in public what he desires to do, Farooq has been a class in politics and obviously the biggest asset for New Delhi irrespective of which side the wind would blow. Many experts believe that despite the anger people had against NC for 2010 unrest and its handling, had Farooq Abdullah not been ill in London and away from election campaigning, NC’s tally in 2014 elections would have been higher. It is a well known fact that he is mercuric in his temperament and would even take oath as Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) member in Mirpur in 1974 and later become the Chief Minister. But for long time he did not change his views and would continuously talk about changing the Line of Control (LoC) into International Border as the permanent solution. Views of any political leader and party are always subject to being in power and out of power especially when it comes to Kashmir. To show sympathy with the victims of “state terrorism” and talk about Kashmir’s resolution is the favourite line for those who are out of power. But Farooq Abdullah’s latest statements are not just for the electoral consumption only. His statement in December 2016 about supporting Hurriyat Conference and now stating that the militants are fighting for freedom are serious in nature.
Look at what he said in February: “Our youth are not sacrificing their lives for becoming legislators or ministers but for their rights. This is our land. These youth have chosen a path and they have promised to God. You are the sole giver and taker of lives but we will sacrifice our life for the freedom of this nation… Today, a new nation (Jammu Kashmir) is ready, the nation that does not fear guns, and the nation which is out for Azadi. They are taking up guns for something concrete. We need to look into it and the guns need to fall silent. They (Kashmiri gun-yielding youth) are not enemy of any one, neither them (India) nor they (Pakistan).”
Farooq Abdullah is not talking about Jammu and Kashmir as one of the states of India but as a “nation”. He is eulogising the militants as freedom fighters against whom his party’s government went hunting.
Many would attribute this “outburst” in typical Farooq style to the forthcoming elections to parliament in which he is likely to contest. But it is not as simple as it is taken at face value. NC and Farooq have played well with political emotions in past but this time what he says is what he sees on the ground. NC has been very careful in handling itself in 2016 unrest. What is important to read in this statement is the message. If the likes of Farooq Abdullah are tuned to a “new reality” in Kashmir, it is censuring New Delhi about how it has misread the situation and continues to think of managing the situation now with an absurd idea of getting Mosques, Madrasas, Media and different sects into seemingly an “intelligence operation”. If Farooq Abdullah is forced to call militants as freedom fighters who will call them terrorists? Writing is very much on the wall if one has the required glasses to read.