2014, Kashmir, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Uphill with Omar Abdullah in Beerwah

An elderly lady embraces Omar Abdullah on the campaign trail in rural Beerwah
An elderly lady embraces Omar Abdullah on the campaign trail in rural Beerwah

Beerwah, Dec. 6: Out barnstorming the countryside a day after multiple terror hits to the Valley, chief minister and National Conference spearhead Omar Abdullah spelt out a blunt “no” to any post-poll deal with the BJP.

“That’s not going to happen, people can keep speculating and dreaming about it,” Omar told The Telegraph in an exclusive chat along his roadshow. He was touring his newly adopted rural constituency Beerwah, southwest of Srinagar.

It appears imminent the ongoing elections will throw up a hung Jammu and Kashmir House and there has been speculation in some circles Omar could ally with the BJP, or support its power effort from outside. Omar conceded the mandate may be fractured but said nothing will drive him to an alliance with the BJP, which is making an audacious first-time bid for power in India’s only Muslim-majority state.

Pressed if he could do a deal with the BJP if only to keep his bitter Valley rival, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), out of power, Omar replied: “I don’t do desperate politics, I have never been desperate, nothing will make us go with the BJP, out of the question.”

That said, the chief minister turned a sceptical eye on dire predictions of a poll debacle that have trailed him this campaign. “Who knows what surprises might lie in store? To me it appears we are doing better each day. And frankly I am under no pressure, the judgement has already been pronounced we have lost, so for me everything is positive. I will tell you we are not doing as badly as many people think, we will spring surprises.”

The campaign seemed to have lost none of its nerve to yesterday’s violence. On the contrary, it retained a joyous temper in this rural patch, a riot of colour and the contrary clamour of competitors. People trailed their respective flags and leaders, piled perilously on top of buses and station wagons, whistling, chanting; a happy chaos reigned on narrow village crossroads, rival formations – NC, PDP, Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference – eddied in confluence, desperate to untangle and head their own ways on campaign’s penultimate day.

The grasping adulation that came his way all day in far Beerwah pockets may have left Omar more buoyed than he has lately been. His caravan would barely begin to groan up the hilly country than it would be halted at another hamlet by another lot of waiting supporters, clotted mid-road, kitted out in the flaming NC red, waving the party flag, beating the panes of the campaign bus, raining toffee and lozenges on it like confetti.

” Sher aayas! Sher aayas!!” they cried out, a euphemistic reference to Omar’s grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah, “Lion of Kashmir”. The women clapped and sang, the men danced around the campaign party, urging Omar out. He would alight, clamber up the roof of his bus and make a short address, beginning with Kashmiri, then turning to Urdu.

Beerwah is a hole in the ground – the roads are cratered, water is scarce, power occasional, poverty all-pervasive. Up and down the hill curves, it’s Beerwah’s deprivations Omar would address in the main. “We have not won an election here in 12 years, but I can see you have been given little. I seek to serve you, give me all of 12 months and I shall begin to change your circumstances, 12 months is all I ask, give me that opportunity.”

Beerwah and Omar are new to each other; it has the excitement of a new fling to both sides. Beerwah sees in Omar the prospect of a VVIP representative, Omar sees in his new constituents an opportunity all his own.

Between hurried spoonfuls of oatmeal off a hot case, between one stop and another, Omar put an explanation on why he had left the Abdullah family seat of Ganderbal and chosen Beerwah. “Look, my presence in Ganderbal had led to issues of party factionalism and oneupmanship among local leaders. But more importantly, Ganderbal is something I had inherited from my family, this place is something I can make my own over the years, as you can see these people need a lot of work done for them.”

He is contesting another family seat, though – Sonwar in the heart of Srinagar. But that, should he win it, would be a trust property kept aside for father Farooq Abdullah, awaiting a kidney transplant in London. “I don’t want my father’s long career to end on a losing note, so hopefully he will return and claim his old Sonwar. I can’t tell you how much he must be missing all of this.”

Omar was looking out of his bus at a group of women dancing with garlands held aloft, and their men clapping them on, a classic Farooq Abdullah moment. Omar would have us believe the moment hasn’t lapsed yet, uphill though it was from where we were.

Beerwah votes on December 9

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