The iconography of Kashmiri politics is in for a radical change. With the imminent installation [or coronation] of Omar Abdullah as president of the ruling National Conference, all three sides of the political triangle will almost fully acquire the so-called generation-next look.
Whether this look will also produce some change in the complexion of the murky politics of the state and, if so, to what extent, only time can tell.
Thanks to the powerful legacy of the late Sheikh Abdullah, the imprint of the personality cult has been a dominant feature of Kashmiri politics. Personal equations have played a decisive role -- both positively and negatively -- in determining the tortuous course of Kashmir's recent history which, in turn, has been influencing the history of the subcontinent in a significant way, often for the worse.
The three identifiable projections of Kashmiri politics are represented by 1) the ruling element of the so-called national mainstream politics (currently represented by the National Conference), 2) the opposition element from the same camp (the Congress, BJP and regional outfits like Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's People's Democratic Party with an assortment of the Left and other groups), and 3) the separatist camp (Hurriyat Conference plus the militant groups).
The pattern as well as configuration of these forces is not likely to undergo any major change in the immediate future, barring, of course, the likelihood of some internal equations within them shifting the balance.
Coming as it does against the backdrop of the forthcoming assembly election, the new look of the political spectrum is most likely to generate sharper lines of demarcation across the democratic divide.
The battle lines between those who stand for election and those opposed to it will naturally crystallise further. Even so, it would be interesting to watch the track that these "colts" eventually settle for, under the force of circumstances or out of their own choice.
Omar Abdullah, though the latest arrival on the scene, is a known face by virtue of his projection through his apprenticeship out there in Delhi. His namesake Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has been there for over a decade now and with an impressive report card. Bilal Gani Lone and his younger brother Sajad Gani Lone are fresh entrants, following the recent assassination of their father. Mehbooba Mufti has carved her name on the political scene with incredible grit and dedication.
When Omar Abdullah formally takes over as president of the National Conference he will have two blueprints to choose from. One of his father and another of his grandfather. Farooq Abdullah's flamboyant style of functioning is totally different from Sheikh Abdullah's business-like method. Without making any value judgment it can be said that in both cases the instinct of survival prevailed over every other aspect of their personalities, especially after the Sheikh's return to power in 1975 at the end of a 22-year-long political "wilderness".
Mehbooba Mufti, vice-president of the People's Democratic Party founded by her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has already emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the mainstream side of Kashmir politics. She made her mark in the legislature before quitting her seat and has gained considerable political clout to create problems for Omar Abdullah. Both she and Omar represent the respective mindset of the younger generation in their respective camps. Their freshness adds to their appeal even while having to carry their respective family baggage.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, though belonging to the same generation, has gained considerable experience during the last one decade. His association with the Hurriyat Conference, of which he has been founding president, has not precluded him from striking an independent course from time to time. Even while retaining his hold over the support base of his [Mirwaiz] family, Umar brings a freshness to his approach. He is articulate like Omar and Mehbooba and is not shy of making media appearances.
Bilal Gani Lone and his younger brother Sajad now lead the People's Conference founded by their slain father Abdul Gani Lone. They have no political experience to show, barring Sajad's brush with high-profile political projection in connection with his marriage to the daughter of the Pakistan-based JKLF leader Amanullah Khan. But as in the case of Omar, Mehbooba and Umar, the Lone brothers have their father's legacy behind them. The political market value of this legacy has gone up tremendously in the wake of Lone's assassination. A majority of Kashmiris saw his assassination as a sacrifice "for our common cause".
If as is generally expected, they pick up from where their father had left, Bilal, who succeeded his father as a member of the Hurriyat Conference, and Sajad, who took over command of the People's Conference, are most likely to gravitate towards Mirwaiz Umar.
In the days to come, Kashmiri politics is bound to undergo not only outward change of form as a result of the younger generation coming to the forefront but also possible variation in its content. That, however, does not mean the old horses are out of the running. They are there. But time is not on their side.
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