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Opposition sees a deal in release of Farooq, Omar Abdullah

The release of NC leaders Farooq and Omar Abdullah in quick succession has led to whispers among some opposition leaders about a possible deal with the Centre.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2020, 11.50 AM IST
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Omar Abdullah, on his part, made an appeal for Mufti’s appeal after he was released, among other comments on Twitter, including on the fitness routine he had evolved during the detention period.
NEW DELHI: The release of National Conference (NC) leaders Farooq and Omar Abdullah in quick succession has led to whispers among some opposition leaders about a possible deal with the Centre, although many of them have formally welcomed their release.

“We have no idea what all transpired before the release of the Abdullahs. But we won’t be surprised if they now gradually shift their main political discourse, from the opposition to the abrogation of Article 370 to demand for restoration of statehood to J&K and domicile clause as conditions for assembly polls, something that suits Delhi as well,” a senior opposition leader told ET on condition of anonymity.

While the authorities gave old age as the reason for the release of Farooq Abdullah, 82, on March 13, in his son Omar’s case it cited the Covid-19 outbreak. Much of the talk stems from the Abdullah family’s history of striking tactical understanding with the government of the day in Delhi, including the Indira-Sheikh Accord of 1975, the manner Farooq, after having left India to live abroad when militancy started in J&K, was made to join the J&K assembly election conducted by the Narasimha Rao regime and the way the NC pragmatically co-existed with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Another opposition leader said, “Clearly, the Centre and BJP want a multi-cornered contest in the Valley during the next J&K assembly polls. There appears to be a deft carrot-and-stick policy by using Apni Party (recently launched third front) and other cards. The NC seems to have fallen for the bait. Now, watch out PDP other smaller outfits!”

Omar Abdullah, on his part, made an appeal for Mufti’s appeal after he was released, among other comments on Twitter, including on the fitness routine he had evolved during the detention period.

Opposition leaders also pointed to what they termed potentially significant events preceding the arrest and release of the Abdullahs. For instance, just three days before they were arrested on August 5 last year, the Abdullahs had a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And on July 31, the media had reported that Farooq Abdullah was grilled by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the alleged Rs 113 crore scam in the J&K Cricket Association which the CBI was also probing.

Within days of their arrest, they (and others including Mufti) were booked under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA). In between, the Centre “encouraged” talks among assorted smaller parties of J&K to form a Third Front – now named Apni Party, led by ex-PDP leader Altaf Bukhari – which was seen as aimed at weakening the NC’s traditional hold in the Valley, where the PDP had emerged in some parts and the Congress now only has a few fading patches.

By early February came reports of former RAW chief AS Dulat holding a discreet “courtesy meeting” with detained Farooq, after permission from the Union home ministry. Later, NC central secretary Rattan Lal Gupta wrote to the chief elector officer stating that the NC was “a strong votary of democratic process” and also wished to participate in the second phase of the panchayat polls, provided the “roadblock” (detention of Abdullahs and others) was removed.

Many opposition parties noted that the NC’s letter to the CEO not only did not make a demand for reversal of abrogation of Article 370 as a condition for joining panchayat polls but the party also shifted from its stand of boycotting the first phase of the polls. With the NC taking the lead, other opposition parties too were forced to follow suit, although the polls were later postponed. Many leaders are now waiting to see whether authorities will take steps to release others as well, including Mufti, Shah Faesal and Sajad Lone.

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