Kashmir Portal

A digital Kashmir Info Network

Young Chief Minister Takes Power In Indian Kashmir

Posted by Kashmir Portal on June 9, 2009

JAMMU

The 38-year-old Omar Abdullah is heir to a political dynasty that has dominated Kashmir since India`s independence.

Young Chief Minister Takes Power In Indian Kashmir

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Kashmir’s youngest-ever chief minister was sworn in on Monday, promising to heal the wounds of a region hit by two decades of separatist rebellion against Indian rule which has killed thousands.The 38-year-old Omar Abdullah is heir to a political dynasty that has dominated Kashmir since India’s independence and the third member of his family to be elected to the troubled state’s top post.

Abdullah’s National Conference party, which backs greater Kashmiri autonomy but rejects separatists’ calls for independence, emerged as the single biggest party in state elections that ended in late December.

Despite a boycott call by separatists, the election had a turnout of more than 60 percent, a boost for New Delhi though many saw it as a vote for better governance rather than acceptance of Indian rule.

Abdullah heads a coalition government with India’s ruling Congress party after a year that saw massive anti-India protests in the state, the collapse of the state government and six months of direct rule from New Delhi.

NO QUICK FIX

On Sunday, Abdullah said he was prepared to facilitate talks between New Delhi and separatists, but tempered expectations of a quick fix.

“There is a rider to the talks and that is that the government of India is facing elections and there can be no big ticket decision,” the Indian Express quoted Abdullah as saying.

Abdullah, who won acclaim with a blistering speech to parliament last year, may come as a breath of fresh air, especially to the region’s disaffected youth who have grown up with an insurgency that has killed more than 47,000 people.

“I think the young generation of Kashmir is identifying itself with Omar (Abdullah), and if he also makes an effort to reach out to and identify with a violence-weary generation, he can deliver,” said Bashir Manzer, a Kashmiri political analyst.

But others say he will likely fail to heal deep wounds until he deals with separatist demands.

“(Abdullah) cannot ignore the recent massive freedom demonstrations. If he is sincere he should help address the aspirations of Kashmiris,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chief of the region’s main separatist alliance, All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference.

Abdullah may have an advantage as his appointment comes as separatist violence is at a 20-year low, Manzer added. That may allow him to focus on what many see as the real priority for those who voted in 2008 — development.

Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul attended the swearing-in ceremony in the state’s winter capital Jammu, two heirs of another political dynasty with whom the Abdullah family has a chequered history since 1947.

Omar is the grandson of Kashmir’s first political leader after 1947, Sheikh Abdullah, known as the “Lion of Kashmir” for his defiance against New Delhi and his subsequent imprisonment for nearly 20 years.

The England-born Abdullah was sent to Kashmir in 2002 to revive his ailing party, which had lost popularity under his father Farooq, the outgoing chief minister at the time.

The former junior federal minister showed his credentials in a barnstorming speech in defence of secularism in parliament earlier this year, when a row over the government transfer of forest land to a Hindu shrine in the state sparked Muslim anger.

Omar is a much more popular choice than his father, who came under fire in the past for his extravagant lifestyle and outspoken advocacy of bombing nuclear-armed Pakistan, analysts say.

Virender Kumar, a newspaper seller in Jammu, compared the thousands of supporters who greeted Omar Abdullah on his return from brokering a coalition in New Delhi, with the protesters who blocked Farooq’s arrival at the time of shrine crisis.

“Who could imagine that five months back the same lot of people didn’t allow his father (Farooq Abdullah) to come out of the airport?”

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