Jammu: The National Conference issued a cryptic statement over Twitter Friday afternoon which was contradicted twice later in the day signaling an internal churning in the party which may be headed towards finding out a Mallikarjun Kharge model for organisational leadership.
The statement put out on the Twitter said, “Dr Farooq Abdullah Sahib has informed his colleagues of his decision to step down as president of JKNC. In spite of the best efforts of senior colleagues in the party, Dr Sahib was adamant that he wouldn’t review his decision.”
The statement further added, “In light of this sudden announcement which has caught everyone by surprise the General Secretary as per the party constitution, has been tasked with conducting the election for the party president which will be completed on Dec 5. Until then Dr Sahib continues as President of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference”.
There are three key elements worth noting in the statement: the party was taken by ‘surprise’, on the ‘sudden’ resignation, and Farooq Abdullah was ‘adamant’ on not withdrawing his decision.
Shortly after the statement, General Secretary, Ali Mohammad Sagar, issued a notification for National Conference presidential elections which is, curiously, dated November 16. This suggests that the election process was already in motion and Dr Abdullah actually resigned two days after the formal notification.
A few hours later, party vice president and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah contradicted the party’s official statement saying that Farooq has not resigned. Writing on the blogging portal mastodon’s toot community, Omar said, “Dr Farooq Abdullah has not resigned as President of Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, he has only informed the party that he will not seek re-election to the post when elections are held. These elections were anyway going to be conducted in December this year”.
“Dr Sahib will continue as president until the election process is completed. I appeal to all my colleagues to seriously consider filing their nominations for the post of the president so the best person from amongst us can steer the party through these turbulent times”, Omar Abdullah said.
Later in the evening, Dr Abdullah told an interviewer in Jammu that he has resigned to pave way for the younger generation to take command of the party. He said he will continue to be president till his successor is chosen on December 5. Interestingly, December 5, is also the birth anniversary of party founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.
What is going on?
Multiple National Conference sources ‘The Dispatch’ spoke to were split on the future course of action leading up to the presidential elections. Everyone confirmed that Dr Abdullah’s resignation was not necessary as he could have stepped down when the election process was complete. “This indeed was a surprise”, said a senior leader who is apparently not in the thick of ongoing things. One thing is clear Farooq is not returning as the party president, some leaders said that Omar Abdullah could succeed his father to return as party president, uncontested. However, a small section of leaders hinted at the possibility of a non-Abdullah becoming party president with a general consensus and concurrence of Omar Abdullah. The elevation of general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar as president is being talked about as National Conference positions itself as more independent of alliances of all sorts, including ideological ones.
Some party sources say the PAGD –People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration –has lately been a matter of contention with Dr Abdullah holding one view on the alliance and other senior party leaders another. On August 24, 2002, a National Conference meeting of Kashmir province under Omar Abdullah passed a unanimous resolution on contesting forthcoming Assembly elections on all 90 seats. This was the first major setback to the PAGD, an amalgam of five parties – the National Conference, PDP, Awami National Conference, CPI(M) and CPI – was formed in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 provisions with the main aim of restoration of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed on August 4, 2019.
By the evening of that day, there were a series of tweets from NC’s official handle signaling a level of frustration in continuing with the PAGD. “Participants in the meeting expressed dismay over the recent statements, audio jingles and speeches made by some of the constituents of the PAGD targeting JKNC”, said one of the tweets. “They felt that it does not contribute to the overall unity of the amalgam. The participants of the Provincial Committee denounced the unfair treatment meted out to JKNC in PAGD. The participants demanded immediate course correction from PAGD constituents,” it further said. In another tweet, NC said, “Provincial Committee members unanimously resolved that JKNC should prepare and fight all 90 seats.”
Among the PAGD partners, the Peoples Democratic Party is the only entity with electoral potential. In NC, Omar Abdullah doesn’t appear in the mood to carry along the burden of PDP -the August 24, 2002, resolution and the above tweets clearly suggest.
However, Farooq Abdullah, it is believed, is not only a votary of the PAGD unity but also shares his political lexicon with Mehebooba Mufti, which is often at variance with Omar Abdullah’s statements.
On Friday, Farooq asserted that consultation with PAGD will take place on seat sharing when the elections happen. “For now I just want to say I am not standing for NC organisational polls, but on the Assembly elections we have to contest with all the force and for that, we will have discussions within PAGD”, Farooq Abdullah told his interviewer. He hastened to add, “I am also the president of PAGD”.
In further evidence that Farooq may be the lone supporter of PAGD within his party, the National Conference on November 2, issued a list nominating an in-charge each for 46 of the 47 Assembly constituencies across Kashmir Valley. The list was a suggestion that NC doesn’t have talks for an alliance with any party on the table. That was an obvious snub to the Peoples Democratic Party.
However, Farooq says these 46 are not the persons NC is putting up for elections. “Let this be clear”, he said in Jammu on Friday. “The list of 46 is about decentralizing responsibilities. We wanted to nominate a person in each constituency to whom people could go with their issues. Everyone doesn’t have to come to provincial offices or the central office in Srinagar”, he said.
The November 2 list didn’t carry the names of Farooq and Omar Abdullah. While Omar has been consistent since June 2021 on noting contesting Assembly elections as long as Jammu and Kashmir continues to be a Union Territory, Farooq says he will contest whenever the elections are held.
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A Kharge model?
The Congress recently had its first elected president, a non-Gandhi, after decades. But Mallkarjun Kharge was clearly a candidate of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Shashi Tharoor, his rival, provided much-needed legitimacy to the organisational electoral process by standing up. The National Conference may also be looking up for an experienced and acceptable figure outside the first family.
The talk of a non-Abdullah president for the National Conference is more than speculation. “A non-Abdullah president will leave National Conference in a better position when it faces the barrage of dynasty salvos whenever the elections are held”, said a party leader. Since 2014, when BJP arrived in Jammu and Kashmir to stay on as a principal player, the family centrality of regional parties, NC and PDP, has remained their consistent target. “Whenever the elections are held, the NC doesn’t want to leave any hole unplugged. It is not about power. It
is about getting the whole Jammu and Kashmir together to seek correction for past maladies and prepare for future challenges”, said a veteran leader when asked if the need of a non-Abdullah president was ever discussed.
Farooq Abdullah was the party president for over two decades since the early 1980s, till Omar Abdullah was chosen as the new president at a widely attended delegate session in Srinagar on June 23, 2002. Over the last two decades, the party presidency has rotated between Farooq and Omar.