Farooq Abdullah and victory go hand in hand even if the National Conference chief does everything to lose.
The 76-year-old, now a central minister, has never lost an election in Kashmir and might sail through this time too from Srinagar. So what if he justified the execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, in the face of massive protests in the Valley, or called Kashmiris “maha chor” while referring to power theft?
Farooq had later denied making the remark but it triggered an outrage in the Valley.
He had also remained an NDA ally after the 2002 Gujarat riots and praised Narendra Modi for his governance.
For those wondering how the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister has still been winning elections, meet Mufti Masood ul Hassan Hussaini.
Like many in Srinagar, Hussaini, who retired as head of the department of neonatology and paediatrics at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, desperately wants to see Farooq lose. “How can you want a person to win who misses no opportunity to denigrate Kashmiris and please India,” he asks.
Many Kashmiris agree with such comments about Farooq, the son of Sheikh Abdullah about whom it is said that even if he had asked people to vote for electric poles, they would have done so without the slightest hesitation.
Fortunately for Farooq, Hussaini, who has never voted in his life, doesn’t plan to break his record on April 30, when Srinagar votes. The 66-year-old is just one of many in the Kashmir capital who have played a decisive role in ensuring victory for Farooq and his party — by not voting.
“It is a betrayal with the aazaadi struggle here. That is why people don’t vote here,” he says.
Elections were largely boycotted in Kashmir for years after militancy started in the eighties but things have improved over the last decade. Not so in Srinagar district. The NC, which has a small but dedicated cadre in the capital, has made the most of this.
In the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, the NC candidate had won uncontested — he alone had dared to join the fray.
Only 18 per cent voted in the 2004 election and 25 per cent in 2009. The figures would have been lower had Ganderbal and Budgam, the two districts that along with Srinagar district make up the parliamentary seat, not seen a decent turnout. Voters in Srinagar district make up more than 50 per cent of the electorate in the constituency.
The party has also been indirectly helped by those who have not even enrolled as voters. “There should have been eight lakh voters in Srinagar district but there are more than two lakh less, which means one in four expected voters is missing,” a government official said.
For Farooq and his party, it would be better if people stay away from booths this time too, although he has been making all the right noises in this election season. The rival Peoples Democratic Party has made inroads in the city, more so in the rural areas of Ganderbal and Budgam.
So if the need of the hour is to condemn the hanging of Afzal and blame the former Union home secretary, who has now joined the BJP, so be it. “Neither Azad sahab nor I knew about the decision to hang him,” Farooq said recently, referring to Union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is from the state. “It was all done by R.K. Singh who is now in the BJP’s lap.”
Autonomy is on his lips as he moves from one rally to another, struggling to get a good audience at many places.
Back in the 1980s, however, Farooq’s staunchly “pro-Kashmiri” rhetoric had earned him admirers. That was when his brother-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah engineered a split in the party to form a government with Congress support.
A few years later, Farooq joined hands with the Congress, realising perhaps that the support of Kashmiris alone was not enough. Farooq became chief minister again after the 1987 elections, widely believed to have been rigged in favour of the NC-Congress alliance.
Two years later, the rigged election became one of the reasons for the beginning of militancy.