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Omar confirms split from wife

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MUZAFFAR RAINA   |   Published 16.09.11, 12:00 AM

Srinagar, Sept. 15: Chief minister Omar Abdullah today confirmed that he and his wife Payal had separated but denied rumours of his remarriage and asked that his and his family members’ private lives be respected.

Omar was virtually forced to go public after months of gossip and rumours that his 17-year-old marriage was on the rocks. Two women were being mentioned as his potential new life partners: one a Delhi-based television anchor and the other the cousin of a junior minister.

“While it is true my wife and I have separated, the speculation about the motives and my future course of action are unfounded, untrue and deeply hurtful to all concerned,” Omar, 41, said in a statement.

“The stories about my remarriage are completely false and concocted.... It is a pity that while repeating these lies, no effort was made to ask me whether any of this is true. In the process a lot of people have been hurt.”

Omar expressed dismay and anguish over the “growing tide of speculation in the media about my private life, particularly the status of my marriage” and appealed that he and his family be left alone.

“I believe my family and I are entitled to privacy. At this point my concern has to and will remain my young sons who do not deserve to see themselves splashed across the news channels and pages of newspapers in this manner.”

Sources said the couple —who have two sons: Zahir, 12, and Zamir, 11 — had begun drifting apart sometime after Omar took over the reins of the state government in January 2009.

Payal and her sons continued to live in Delhi and Omar could spare little time for them after facing criticism over his frequent trips to meet them in the initial months.

That alone was not the reason. “Of late, there was no compatibility,” a source in the ruling National Conference party said.

“The two of them had agreed to split sometime ago but their concern for the future of their two children was one of the things that was delaying their separation.”

Omar’s statement said: “I am sure you will all appreciate that while my private life has gone through a period of unprecedented upheaval, I have not allowed it to affect my work in any way.

“My family and I will not be issuing any more statements or taking any further questions about any of this.”

Omar had married Payal, a Hindu Jat girl from Himachal Pradesh and daughter of a retired army officer, in 1994 against the wishes of his family. He had met her at a company in Mumbai, where he had taken a job after earning his degree from Sydenham College.

Many in the Valley are against the Abdullahs marrying outside their religion. Such marriages have been common, though, within the family whose members have cared little for public opinion about their personal lives.

Omar’s father Farooq Abdullah has an English-born wife, Mollie. Of their four children, eldest daughter Safia alone has married a Kashmiri, Asif Khan. Farooq’s second daughter, Hina, is now Hina Collins after she married a South African.

The youngest of the siblings, Sara, had raised many eyebrows here by marrying Sachin Pilot in 2004.

Even Farooq had opposed the marriage and the entire family had boycotted the wedding. Since then, Sara and the rest of the family have patched up.

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