New Delhi, April 22: The one sore point about Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s otherwise successful visit to Kashmir was his repeated digs at the previous Farooq Abdullah regime.
They infuriated not just the former chief minister and his son Omar, but also touched a raw nerve among a section of the intelligentsia which believes successive Indian governments have always exploited Kashmiri leaders and then discarded them.
Six months after the ouster of the Abdullah regime, many have forgiven and forgotten the National Conference’s misdeeds.
“Farooq and Omar are good nationalist Indians and New Delhi has milked them for all their worth. Now it is Mufti’s turn to play ball with the Centre,” said Iqbal Rasool, a Srinagar lawyer.
“In their eagerness to discredit the previous regime, Indian rulers have once again shown their contempt for Kashmiris.”
In his effort to win brownie points for conducting free and fair elections in Kashmir, Vajpayee rubbed the National Conference — technically still a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance — the wrong way.
His constant harping on the “mistakes” of the past — in allowing doctoring of election results, in not realising that “democracy was a sensitive plant which needed to be nurtured” — infuriated National Conference chief Omar Abdullah.
“This is the same Prime Minister who took me to foreign capitals and introduced me to foreign dignitaries as a Kashmiri Muslim who has been democratically elected to office. Today, he is daring to insult my father and me to say all elections in the state were rigged. If the Prime Minister thought so he should have expressed some of these qualms in private at least. But he kept mum,” Omar said in a local television interview.
The anger of the Abdullahs is understandable. What is surprising is that several Srinagar residents, who are not supporters of the National Conference, are also commenting on it.
Indignant with the Centre’s treatment of the family, they feel the Prime Minister’s comments were not in good taste.
Today, many are willing to see the contribution the Abdullahs have made to Kashmir. “Sheikh Abdullah was a patriot. Farooq squandered much of the family’s good will by his penchant for having fun and his desire to please Delhi. His son is a serious young man and can work himself up to become a true leader of the state, that is, if he cuts off his links to the current NDA alliance,” said Ghulam Rasul, an administrative officer in Kashmir university and a pro-Hurriyat Conference activist.
As for National Conference workers, they are restive and unhappy with the way the Centre has treated their leaders. The Prime Minister could have done better than to make new enemies in Kashmir, said one party activist.
“It is important for Delhi to take everyone along,” echoed a hotelier in Srinagar. “New friends should of course be made, but old ones need not be sacrificed.”