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Why Omar should focus on progress, not Congress

Tuesday June 14, 2011 10:54:17 AM, Sheikh Qayoom, IANS

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has emphasized that he will not have to give up his chair in favour of the coalition partner, the Congress. While many agree he need not worry on that count, they say focussing on how to deliver on his promises to the people might be a better idea.

Having assumed the reins of power after the Congress and the National Conference worked out an alliance in the wake of the 2008 assembly elections, Omar has received unflinching support from the Congress national leadership and expects to last the full six-year term.

"There are some leaders in the local Congress who from time to time raise their voice for rotation of the top job in favour of their party, but this clearly does not have the blessings of the Congress high command," said a National Conference minister who obviously did not want to be named.

"The chief minister has more acceptability at the national level than any other local mainstream leader. His secular credentials, forward looking image and innate aversion to lobbyism and vested interests are well-known."

At present, the National Conference has 28 legislators in the 87-member assembly, while the Congress has 16 and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) 21 seats.

Relations between former ruling allies PDP and Congress had soured to a breaking point during the Amarnath land row agitation in 2008, when there were widespread protests against the government decision to divert 100 acres of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board for providing facilities to the pilgrims.

The straining of relations forced the then chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress, to recommend dissolution of the legislative assembly, bringing a short spell of governor's rule in July 2008.

"It was the bitter experience of the Congress with the PDP that finally brought about the National Conference-Congress alliance after the 2008 elections," a senior PDP leader said here.

"After the 2008 elections, the National Conference won 28 seats, the Congress came down to 16 from the previous 21 while the PDP improved its lot from 17 to 21 seats and still the Congress preferred the National Conference for alliance."

Many here believe the Congress and the National Conference to be logical allies, as against the predominantly rural-based PDP, which has often been accused of a tacit understanding with the local Jamaat-e-Islami party.

The Jamaat is a religious party engaged primarily with religious and modern education besides organising religious debates and discourses.

But many of its senior leaders, including Syed Ali Geelani, became champions for the secessionist cause after the outbreak of separatist violence here in the 1990s.

Geelani is now seen as the biggest ideologue of separatism in Kashmir.

"The Congress has many things to lose if they seek proximity with the PDP, at least at the perceptional level. Within itself, they do not have a local leader who can stand up as a potential chief ministerial candidate against Omar Abdullah," said a newspaper editor here.

"The bottomline is Omar will have to continue as the sheet anchor for the alliance in the future as well after Ghulam Nabi Azad indicated his unwillingness to return to state politics."

The country's youngest chief minister should lay to rest his apprehensions of a change of guard in the state and focus on governance and tackling graft, analysts say.

Most locals believe the ruling coalition has brought in little change in the rampant corruption prevalent in the administrative setup.

"You have to pay for everything, from routine state subject certificate to securing a tender in the rural development department," 69-year-old retired teacher Habibullah said.

Other challenges include employment, education, industrial development, roads and healthcare.

"Yet another problem presenting itself to Omar is the devolution of power to the village level after the panchayat elections saw a large number of people coming out to vote," a senior National Conference minister said.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at




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