The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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NC plebiscite

Srinagar, March 23: Sheikh Abdullah used to do it — and often. Now his son is pinning hopes on the same mantra.

Former industries minister Mustafa Kamal, younger brother of Farooq Abdullah, believes the only way the battered and bruised National Conference could stage a comeback is by raking up history.

Kamal has demanded that the party be renamed the Plebiscite Front, which “would then wage a political campaign for the right of self-determination to the people here”, reports our correspondent.

“Kamal believes that the dying National Conference’s horse could be given the much needed oxygen only through a slogan for self-determination that would create the vital breathing space for the party in Kashmir after the recent defeat. But it is too late for the party leaders. No one trusts them now,” said Dr Parvez, a well-known physician.

In the last Assembly elections, the National Conference was almost uprooted from its political stronghold — the Kashmir Valley — where till recently the people treated the party’s word as the gospel truth.

A veteran Kashmir observer who closely followed the late Sheikh Abdullah’s five-decade-long political career recalled how the National Conference founder and former chief minister always used the plebiscite mantra whenever relations with New Delhi ran into rough weather.

“The Sheikh would have three sets of political statements, one while he was in Delhi, the other while in Jammu and the third when he would address the Kashmiri people. The magic was his mantra always worked. While his unpleasant references would force Delhi to veer more quickly to his liking, people in Kashmir would get mesmerised with the idea that the aging Sheikh had not compromised on their political rights,” he said.

“The Sheikh would easily assume the reigns of power conveniently in the state and tell Kashmiris that he was doing so simply to retrieve their lost honour and glory. This political stratagem he called ‘Izat aur aubru ka muqam for Kashmiris’ (restoration of the dignity of the Kashmiri people). The locals remained convinced that the National Conference was obliging them by accepting the onerous responsibility of running the state.”

Though Kamal’s statement did create a few ripples, it failed to raise the storm he and his family were expecting. As a local resident explained, the “problem” for Kamal and his brother, former chief minister Abdullah, was that “much water has already flowed down the Jhelum since the days the Sheikh ruled the hearts and minds in Kashmir”.

“The assertions bear neither the conviction nor the mandate like the late Sheikh did. The plebiscite card has been long over-played by the National Conference,” said college lecturer Abdul Rahman.

“They gave up the slogan way back in 1975 when the party came back to power with our support, which was only possible after the late Sheikh gave up the slogan for plebiscite in Kashmir for good,” said Abdul Gani, a local Congress leader.

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