The NC Revamp

05 Jun, 2014    ·   4495

Shujaat Bukhari reflects on the changes within the National Conference as a result of its performance at the Lok Sabha elections

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

When National Conference president Farooq Abdullah put a Karakuli on the head of his son Omar Abdullah to announce his anointment as the new party president on June 23, 2002, he literally called it a day as far as his role in the party is concerned. He did that while reposing full faith in Omar’s ability to take the party forward. This was done amidst thunderous applause at the Park near S K Stadium where more than 15000 party members and loyalists had gathered to stamp the “coronation”. But today the clock seems to have turned back. Farooq Abdullah had to return as party president and Omar Abdullah was given the charge as Working President. The latter arrangement also looks falling apart if the results of the recent elections are any indication.

Not only are the party workers making a strong case for Farooq’s comeback as the chief ministerial candidate in the coming Assembly elections, but also they have turned courageous to demand a complete revamp and in other sense are asking for a non-Abdullah colour to the party.

Parties run by families have been part and parcel of South Asian politics for many decades. But the recent elections to Lok Sabha virtually turned tables on all dynasties including that of Abdullahs as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it a plank in his elections and sought people’s mandate to uproot the dynastic politics in India. This may not become a reality with each passing day but as of now the anti-dynastic emotions in India are running high. However, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) run by father-daughter duo was an exception but its win was more on anti government vote than the love for a dynasty.

NC is in deep shock over the humiliating defeat in which none less than the president Farooq Abdullah lost the elections; it is also in two introspection modes— one at the level of party and other being done by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah himself to find out as to what went wrong in the government. As of now the party has begun a rejig and the significant decision that was taken in NC Core Group on Monday was to replace the hard-line general secretary Sheikh Nazir Ahmad with a trusted party loyal Ali Mohammad Sagar. The official announcement is yet to come but Sagar has already begun the work and in order to keep ailing Nazir and another Abdullah family member Sheikh Mustafa Kamal in good humour, they are being moved to less pragmatic positions of Patron and Vice President. Similarly another shake up at provincial and district level is in the offing.

What it Means
Though the control of party remains with senior Abdullah, the changes at other levels are significant in many ways. Given the huge trust deficit the party has with the people, its loyalists are worried over its fate in coming elections, which will determine its place in the political arena of the state. From 46 percent vote share in 1984, the party is too poor now with just 11 percent share. Analysts point out that this 11 percent vote comprises of those who are mostly of first generation and owe their link to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and his pro-people policies. In the past three decades the party has failed to lure youth towards its programmes and has not been able to induct young faces into the party except for those whose fathers are already at senior positions.

By giving Sagar and others the “real” charge of the party, the NC leadership has begun a damage control exercise. It is a bid to win the old guard that was completely isolated by Omar Abdullah and his coterie. At no point of time Sagar or the likes of NC stalwart Abdur Rahim Rather were given an impression that they were important in the government or the party. It was their compulsion to be in the power lest they would lose everything.

Omar's Position
This revamp also indicates that Omar has not only been sidelined in the affairs but the party has itself proven that he has miserably failed. The hope with which Farooq Abdullah anointed him on June 23, 2002 has been lost. Today Omar is fiddling with the idea of “which constituency I will fight”. When he lost 2002 election from Ganderbal, the onus was put on his father and his “misgovernance” from 1996 to 2002 but he came back in 2009 with no baggage at all. Youth had high hopes with him and it was easy for him to live up to those hopes as he had strong backing of Congress party and Centre. Congress even rescued him from 2010 crises. But today Omar’s baggage made Farooq to lose. At a time when Farooq should have been enjoying a life of retiree at the age of 78, he is forced to come back and work at a grass root level to boost the morale of the party and see that it has an address in next elections.

From conceding much space to Congress in terms of politics and government to being aloof from everything and being arrogant have been some of the factors as to why Omar could not even replace his father, not to talk of grandfather. He did try to introspect after the defeat but by undoing certain things he only strengthened the argument of his opponents that he cannot and could not deliver. For example the way he rushed to scrap the Recruitment Policy. It raised more questions about the competence of his government that adopted it in 2010. The argument that the policy had played an important role in discouraging people from looking towards government jobs and moving towards entrepreneurship is sound one and this would help state to steer through the economic crisis that has been its hanging sword. His accessibility in last five and half years has been one of the issues that is discussed much in the backdrop of the debacle. Now to throw lines open through Gmail and keep gates at Gupkar unlocked may be too late for him to resurrect at personal level. His party has also endorsed the view of his critics by taking recourse to sideline him and his team. He is likely to jump to everything but it is too late. No pun intended.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir