National Conference (NC) is to Kashmir what Congress party is to India. With minor absenteeism the party has mostly ruled Kashmir since 1947. On its website NC has put out the last testament of its founding father Sheikh Abdullah in text animation which states that '…People’s hearts can only be won by love, justice, truthfulness and sincerity. Not with subsidized rice, army and offering largesse.’ Paradoxically Kashmir has been witness to a frightening shrinkage of agricultural land (hence reliance on imported and subsidized rice), more army men than government employees (4,50,000 men and women in government service compared to roughly about 6,00,000 troopers) and last but not least we are extremely liberal of spirit while doling out freebies and bribes. Any one in Srinagar will tell you that. Thence stands belied the last testament.
That does not mean NC has no relevance. It is a completely democratic party. Out of the JK’s 87 assemble seats, NC has men and women on 28. That is roughly about one-third. It also has a central working committee comprising of 22 wise men who actually call the shots in the party. With the situation in Kashmir getting more complicated than Kandahar, these wise men decided to get their heads together for a Chintan Baithak (introspection meet) of sorts last week. Sheikh Abdullah’s eldest son Dr Farooq Abdullah, naturally, is the President and gets to sit on a low-chair. His eldest son Omar Abdullah is the state’s chief minister (CM) and gets another low-chair to the right of his dad. Nineteen other gentlemen have to hunker down on the carpeted floor. One guy sits in between the two chairs separating the former and the current CM. God knows why? Sheikh Abdullah smiles benignly from the wall.
It was a closed door meeting held for 420 minutes (7 hours). Eight resolutions were passed. So Omar stays as CM, all ministers (whether inefficient or not) will continue as ministers, Sheikh Nazir (relative to the CM and CM’s dad) will carry on as the general secretary and ofcourse Dr Farooq Abdullah will continue to be the President of NC (what if they won’t make him the President of India). All the men were agreed that there is a need to strengthen the party. Dr Farooq Abdullah gave a personal assurance to his crew that they will get to see more of him, henceforth.
As soon as the get-together started to get a tad boring (with usual uninspiring speeches), the unexpected happened. Dr Sahib pulled a rabbit out of the hat: Autonomy! Give it to us Now – pure and unadulterated as it existed for six years -- between 1947-1953. There is a longish history to the eight magic words. Let us cut it short here for the sake of brevity. NC after partly shelving the Autonomy in 1975, revived it in 1994. A resolution was passed (unanimously) in the JK assembly in 2000 adopting the Autonomy report (Autonomy committee was headed by Maharaja Hari Singh’s son, Dr Karan Singh). India wasted no energy. The government of India out rightly rejected the wish. [Who knows they might have a change of heart this time?]
At this the meeting was announced concluded. The delegates filed out one-by-one into the lawns to their gaping white ambassador cars, fitted with red lights. Into the city, with no soul on any thoroughfare, drove the twenty wise men. Window panes rolled up. Sirens blaring. Dad and son retired for siesta. No chips on their shoulders.