Devender Singh Rana is gone, Omar ‘retains faith’ in Nasir Sogami

Good Times: Omar takes a selfie with Devender, Nasir and Sagar as the four share Trami, a traditional Kashmiri feast platter

As the National Conference completes the second tier of its organisational election process, Nasir Aslam Wani, one of the two trusted lieutenants of Omar Abdullah stays on as president for Kashmir province.

NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah, general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar and other senior leaders were present at the Nawa-e-Subh headquarters of the party in Srinagar Saturday morning where the election event took place.

Popular also as Nasir Sogami, he has often been dubbed as one of the two eyes of Omar Abdullah –the other being Devender Singh Rana who recently dumped the party to join BJP. Sogami and Rana have remained two closest aides of Omar ever since he joined politics on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections in 1998.

For almost twenty years Omar Abdullah has remained at the center of criticism from within the party for unprecedented reliance on Nasir and Rana at the cost of access to other party colleagues. From public events to private affairs, Nasir and Rana have often been seen together with Omar, an optic that empowered them phenomenally in the party.

In what is described by Omar Abdullah as a personal emotional blow to him, Devender Singh Rana recently quit National Conference to join the Bhartiya Janta Party. Rana said his priority was the centrality of Jammu in the political narrative of Jammu and Kashmir which was not happening outside BJP. He has not, however, said much about any complications he faced within the National Conference.

Omar Abdullah appears to have been emotionally shaken by Rana’s sudden departure to BJP. For the National Conference, it is not the loss of a member but a wider question about its secular political apparatus with a pan Jammu and Kashmir footprint. By virtue of his close proximity with Omar Abdullah and also his personal dynamism, Rana was the face of the National Conference in the Hindu majority Jammu region. In an increasingly communally polarized political environment, people like Devender Singh Rana and Surjeet Singh Slathia –the other leader who quit NC for BJP –symbolised secularism in the grand old political party of Jammu and Kashmir.

Commenting on Rana’s departure, Omar Abdullah said “it is more of a blow to me personally than to the party”. I invested in a relationship for two decades. I defended him against conspiracies in the party to make him comfortable. I did this at the cost of my personal credibility. Today I realize I am wrong and other party colleagues were right”, Omar told Karan Thapar in an interview.

Nasir Sogami and Devender Singh Rana occupied so much of space around Omar Abdullah that it was mostly impenetrable for other party colleagues. When Omar became Chief Minister in January 2009, the duo took the center stage. Rana was immediately installed as Political Advisor to the Chief Minister and Nasir was taken in as a Minister a few months later. While Nasir Sogami maintained a low profile despite being a Minister, Devender was the gateway to the Chief Minister.

The talk of their clout around the Chief Minister was so much that at one time there were rumours of their elevation to the top cabinet positions by easing out the party veterans Abdul Rahim Rather and Ali Mohammad Sagar. At some point in 2012 a news story appeared on the front page of Times of India which suggested possibility of such a development. In the familiar circles, however, this story was well known as ‘plant’ to serve as a warning to Rather and Sagar.

In 2013, Devender Singh Rana and Nasir Aslam Wani were elevated as provincial presidents of National Conference for the Jammu province and Kashmir province, respectively. Rana has continued to enjoy this position till earlier this when he switched over to the BJP, while Nasir has been re-elected –an exercise largely seen as pre-decided by the leadership whip.

Nasir with Dr Abdullah and Ali Mohammad Sagar

Nasir’s re-election as Kashmir provincial president is seen as a renewal of Omar’s trust in him. “The party cadre has reaffirmed its faith in your leadership. I have no doubt you will continue to steer the party through the myriad challenges & opportunities in Kashmir province. I look forward to continuing to work closely with you Nasir”, Omar said in a congratulatory tweet.

Mild-mannered, soft-spoken and easily accessible, Nasir is the grandson of legendary National Conference leader Ghulam Nabi Sogami, a colleague of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The Sogamis come from Sogam village of Kupwara district in north Kashmir. Nasir won his first assembly election in 2008 from the Amirakadal constituency in Srinagar city.


Low profile in Jammu

Dr Mustafa Kamal presided over the election of the provincial president in Jammu

For Jammu province, the party has elected Rattan Lal Gupta, a low-profile veteran from the old guard. Gupta was named as interim president the last week when incumbent Devender Singh Rana had taken the party by surprise upon switching over to the BJP. Even as Gupta is an old loyal and a committed man of organization but he has limitations of influence and mobility. NC is not expected to choose a Muslim leader as regional president for Jammu. Other veterans like Ajay Sadhotra have already served terms. Even as choices for the party were limited but by installing Rattan Lal Gupta as provincial chief the National Conference has conveyed that it is not ready for any major organisational overhaul.


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