IF EVER proof were needed that in India that is Bharat, democracy plays second fiddle to dynasty, there was ample in last week’s events in Srinagar and New Delhi. After six years, the old aristocracy of the Abdullahs is back in power. But not the good doctor Farooq, as the electorate were promised during the poll campaign, but the National Conference president Omar, who will take oath today as India’s first- ever third- generation chief minister, following his grandfather, the legendary Sheikh, and his father, the controversial Farooq.
Much went on between midnight of December 28, the day the results were out and the following morning, none of it remotely democratic. No party meetings were called nor were the newly elected legislators summoned for their views, either in the NC or the Congress. It was a decision that was finalised entirely between the father- son duo in Srinagar and the mother- son combo in New Delhi.
After the results threw up a hung assembly, Farooq went before TV cameras to proclaim himself the next chief minister, but next morning he dropped by at the florists before returning in front of the cameras to put a garland around his son’s neck and anoint Omar the new CM. Not much is known about why Farooq changed his mind, though the Delhi grapevine has it that the Congress, old hats at the ‘ divide and rule’ strategy had successfully managed to drive a wedge between the father and son. If the capital’s chattering classes — who incidentally turn up to vote only at the Gymkhana and Golf Club elections — are to be believed, Farooq was never really in the picture and it was Omar all the way, proving that the socialite coalitions in the capital hold more power than anything that political coalitions may have to offer.
Omar is part of the same social circuit that Rahul Gandhi is known to frequent. As the NC became the single largest party in the new assembly, Omar skipped meeting his party colleagues and flew to Delhi to meet Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders. Dad may have been a rival but in the true spirit of democratic dynasties, escorted him to senior UPA leaders like Kamal Nath and Sharad Pawar. The latter played a crucial role, being both a good friend of the father as well as guardian to Omar which he was when the young man pursued his graduation at Sydenham College in Mumbai. Other voices didn’t matter. Not Saifuddin Soz, who wanted the Congress to back the PDP, or Gulam Nabi Azad who thought Farooq was a better bet. The only condition that was laid before Omar was that he sever all ties with the NDA, in whose government he served as a junior minister.
He more than obliged by his first pronouncements, one of which equated Kashmir with Jammu and another that called for normalisation of relations with Pakistan, both of which now has the Congress worried. But what is of more concern to leaders in both parties is the fear that the young power centres, friends that they are, will deal directly and therefore will have no need for middlemen.
Don’t be surprised if the old days when Pandit Nehru went out of his way to appease Sheikh Abdullah are revisited. After all, Kashmir has always had a special resonance for the Nehru- Gandhis whose origins lie there.