May 1999 News

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Farooqs mother blows lid off family rift, backs Omar

13 May 1999
Asian Age

By Yusuf Jameel

Srinagar: The cat is out of the bag. Begum Akbar Jehan’s public indictment of her son Farooq Abdullah’s government for allegedly being neck-deep in corruption has brought to the surface the simmering differences in the Sheikh household. That all was not well in Kashmir’s first family became a bit obvious when chief minister Farooq Abdullah downgraded the portfolio of his younger brother, Dr Mustafa Kamal, much to the discomfiture of their octogenarian mother, popularly called Madar-e-Meharban (benevolent mother).

It is no secret that of the three sons, Mustafa Kamal is dearest to Begum Akbar Jehan. Dr Farooq Abdullah tried to justify the reshuffle to his ailing mother by saying that several other ministers too had been shunted so as to make the administration more people-friendly. But even before the ministerial reshuffle, Dr Farooq Abdullah used to frequently overrule the administrative decisions made by Dr Mustafa, causing him embarrassment.

No one knows what prompted her to break her silence and publicly target a government headed by her son, and that too at a time when the chief minister and his National Conference party are preparing to face an alienated electorate in the Lok Sabha elections. Some say she is trying to salvage the party, the legacy of her legendary husband, Sheikh Abdullah. Her words that she might decide to return to active politics “to save her people” and that “in the twilight of my life, I am a disappointed person,” are being interpreted as her disillusionment with her son.

She said in an interview earlier this week that she had told Dr Farooq Abdullah that if things continued to drift she would have no choice but to jump into politics to get the people out of this “quagmire.” The chief minister vehemently denied the charges of corruption against his government and regretted that his mother was providing ammunition to the otherwise empty arsenal of the Opposition.

While criticising her son, Begum Akbar Jehan showered a lot of praise on her grandson, Omar Farooq. She said while her late husband was the product of a struggle, Dr Farooq Abdullah had got it on a platter and “did not have to do anything to be there at the top.” In the same breath she put a lot of hope in Omar “whom I am grooming in politics.” She said she was sure that her grandson would prove himself to be the real ideological successor of Sheikh Abdullah.

But critics say point out that Omar too has got it on a platter because he is the Sheikh’s grandson. They say “she wants to ensure that Omar, who faced stiff opposition from the Congress in the last election, is not rejected by the electorate given the dismal performance of the Farooq government.” There is visible resentment and a feeling of betrayal at Dr Farooq Abdullah’s support to a party like the BJP whose policies and actions go against the Kashmiri psyche as well as National Conference ideology. After all, both he and his son had projected the BJP as “number one enemy” of the Kashmiri people during the last election campaign. While the chief minister said the support was issue-based and that he wanted to avoid confrontation with the party in power in New Delhi, there were hardly any takers for his justification even within the party.

Omar Farooq has often said that he is against National Conference support to the BJP-led government. He has even said that for the National Conference, the Congress was “not an untouchable.” Some say that he is acting on his father’s directions should he decide to sever his association with the BJP and support the Congress if it comes to power at the Centre. Omar could then be used as a bridge with the Congress. But others see in Omar’s remarks a manifestation of dissent within the state ruling party on the question of support to the BJP, and say “it is for this reason that that the mother is desperately trying to promote Omar’s prospects.”

Dr Farooq Abdullah is in London and his first priority on his return would be to calm his mother down. For the moment, the beneficiary of this dissent in the family is the former chief minister and Dr Farooq Abdullah’s estranged brother-in-law, Gulam Muhammad Shah, and his Awami National Conference.

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