Has Omar Abdullah taken on more than he can handle?
When Omar Abdullah took over as Kashmir’s youngest Chief Minister in January 2009, his coronation befitted a king.
That Abdullah came from a family of Kashmir’s best known politicians and was the third generation member to ascend to the post of CM made it imperative that he live up to the expectations of many who wanted an immediate solution to Jammu and Kashmir’s complex problems.
Born to a family that has witnessed political intrigue in the restive state for decades and had a history of alliances with the Congress, Abdullah was seen as the right candidate to a post many deemed as the ‘crown of thorns’.
Like all CMs before him, among the many problems he inherited, Abdullah needed to immediately address allegations of human rights violations, demands for repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, ensure better governance, maintain peace and stability in the region and continue dialogue with the separatists who boycotted elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Political pundits predicted that Abdullah would make up in sincerity and hard work what he lacked in experience.
Abdullah’s first test of strength came with his handling of the rape and murder of two Muslim women in Kashmir’s Shopian district last month.
Abdullah came under heavy criticism from separatists and pro-freedom protestors, lying low since a record voter turnout during 2008 elections despite their boycott calls and threats of violence.
Residents said two women, aged 17 and 22, were abducted, raped and killed by security forces in Shopian town, 60 km south of Srinagar.
The daily street protests, strike calls, police firing on protestors and incidents of army shooting at civilians gave a new lease of life to separatists who rejected the findings of a judicial inquiry ordered by Abdullah after the Shopian incident.
Abdullah admitted that his government made a mistake in the handling of the Shopian crisis, which included allegations of delay in initial police action to ensure justice.
He said he was “misled” by some of his junior officials but learnt serious “lessons” from the incident.
Detractors see the candid admission and the subsequent damage control measures of suspending senior police officials as indication of earnestness but inexperience.
Faced with accusations by opposition People’s Democratic Party of involvement in a sex scandal that rocked the state in 2006, an emotional Abdullah took an impromptu decision to quit his post until his name was cleared.
Party workers, including his father and former CM Farooq Abdullah have advised calm in the face of a political storm brewing in the restive state. But many see Abdullah’s conditional resignation in the face of pressure as an indication of his youth and lack of experience.
As he completes his six months in office, Abdullah may need to face criticism with a cool head, keeping the welfare of his people in mind.
At 38, he is one of the youngest politicians with possibly one of the toughest jobs in Indian politics.
Besides being the chief minister, he has 20 portfolios under his belt, has to haggle with the central government for timely flow of development funds, contend with a vociferous opposition and worry about security issues in between walking a fine line on the question of Kashmir’s independence.
So is it that the grandson of Sheikh Abdullah, the Lion of Kashmir, has taken on more than he can handle? A classic case of biting off more than one can chew?