Can Omar and his National Conference bounce back in Kashmir? (News Analysis)

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Srinagar, June 3: Would the haste with which the Jammu and Kashmir coalition government is taking populist steps help the regional National Conference(NC) make the much-needed turnaround and would Chief Minister Omar Abdullah continue to be the party's poster boy for the assembly polls later this year?

Abdullah owned moral responsibility for the poll debacle, but also squarely blamed his lieutenants for it.

"How can I blame the (alliance partner) Congress for not voting in favour of the NC candidates? We have lost even in constituencies represented by some of my senior ministers", he told reporters immediately after the poll results were announced.

Abdullah has also thrown open all channels of communication with the people, including his e-mail account, the gates of his office and even those of his high-security Gupkar Road residence in summer capital Srinagar. Dozens of people line up outside the chief minister's residence with job applications, developmental issues and other social problems every day.

Immediately after the NC and the Congress suffered the worst defeat in the Lok Sabha elections in Kashmir - losing all six seats in equal measure to the BJP and the PDP - the party went into a "chintan" (introspection) mode.

But, the haste with which Abdullah, the NC working president, has been taking measures to reverse some of his own past decisions suggests the coalition is more in "chinta" (worry) mode than taking considered, well-informed decisions.

The state government has already announced withdrawal of the stipendiary recruitment policy. The policy was announced two years earlier when its senior-most minister who heads the finance portfolio, Abdul Rahim Rather, said there wasn't enough money to pay full salaries to new recruits.

Rather is now believed to have fallen from grace in the eyes of his party president, or at least most of his high profile decisions have.

The state government is actively debating on the date it should announce enhancement in the retirement age of government employees from 58 to 60 years. Rather had stood firm for five years against the proposal, asserting it would be counter-productive as it would block employment avenues for the educated, unemployed youth.

Then the ban on SMS was claimed in 2010 to have been a "considered decision based on security perceptions". After the coalition's defeat, Abdullah withdrew this through a less than half-page order.

Would these steps help the NC or the Congress "bounce back" as Abdullah has vowed to do during the assembly elections?

Well, most people believe the decision to meet people and reverse unpopular administrative decisions is okay, but the haste with which this is being done does indicate the alliance is under huge pressure from its rivals.

"It should not have been done the way we have done it. We should either have waited or thrown the whole issue in the public domain before unilaterally withdrawing either the stipendiary recruitment policy or the other things we plan to quickly do now", said a senior minister who did not wish to be named.

NC patron and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah has made it clear that those who failed to get votes for party candidates during the Lok Sabha polls would not be given tickets for the assembly elections.

The elder Abdullah lost the Lok Sabha election from Srinagar in his first electoral defeat. Going by figures, the NC or the Congress led in just six assembly segments out of 46 in the Valley.

In a nutshell, while most serving ministers might find themselves without tickets, Omar Abdullah himself might not be the NC's poster boy during the assembly elections. Who will be his replacement is a million-dollar question!

IANS

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