| Omar Abdullah addresses a rally in Srinagar on Sunday, the last day of campaigning for the second phase. (AFP)
Jammu, Sept. 22: First it was the father, now the son.
For much of last week, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah had to explain to people how he was “misquoted” on a statement attributed to him to the effect that if there was a hung Assembly, he would prefer to sit in the Opposition.
As campaigning ended today in Jammu district, Farooq was forced to clarify a remark made by his son and heir-anointed Omar Abdullah when he was here earlier in the week.
If Farooq’s reported statement had demoralised National Conference workers, as its leaders here admitted, Omar’s made one of the party’s “royal” candidates furious.
Ajatshatru Singh, the son of Congress MP Karan Singh and grandson of Maharaja Hari Singh, the tourism minister in Farooq’s Cabinet, is contesting again as the National Conference candidate from Nagrota, 22 km from here.
Omar had reportedly mentioned at a rally in Samba how his grandfather Sheikh Abdullah successfully threw out the Maharaja from Jammu and made his clan live like commoners.
Samba was part of the Maharaja’s fief, and Rajput-dominated at that.
Omar is believed to have repeated his remark in Vijaypur, another Rajput-majority town.
“It has definitely damaged our prospects in Samba and Vijaypur,” Ajatshatru told this correspondent shortly before taking off for a meeting at Aghore. Farooq was also scheduled to address the rally this afternoon.
Elsewhere, too, the comment has “hurt the sentiments of people”, Ajatshatru said.
Farooq had to clarify that Omar’s comment was not meant against any individual but against “dynastic rule” in general.
Predictably, the BJP latched on to Omar’s remark.
Union minister Uma Bharti told her public meetings that despite Hari Singh being booted out of the state by the Abdullahs, his grandson was “content to sit on Farooq’s lap”.
National Conference sources, however, claimed Ajatshatru had no choice but to cast his lot with the ruling party. He had to “protect” his clan’s properties, which included several temples and allied religious institutions, they said.
A slogan that Ajatshatru raised at one of his public meetings summed up his compulsions. Speaking of his political adversaries, Ajatshatru said: “The Congress symbol of a palm denotes shady give-and-take deals, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s elephant is a marauding animal that will destroy the boundaries of our state while the BJP’s lotus is ambiguous. Sometimes the lotus smells nice, sometimes foul. But the National Conference’s plough is best because it represents the interests of the zamindars and peasants alike.”
However, as campaigning drew to a close, Farooq and Ajatshatru gave the impression that neither wanted the Omar-inspired controversy to linger.
At the Aghore meeting, both referred to Hari Singh but the context was neutral. Ajatshatru spoke of how his grandfather was among the first in north India to abolish child marriage and open the gates of the temples in his kingdom to the Dalits.
Farooq used the occasion to counter the RSS and the Jammu State Morcha’s plank of carving out a separate Jammu state by stressing that though it was Hari Singh who created Jammu, his grandson rightly said it could be lopped off from Kashmir only over their dead bodies.