Farooq Abdullah has done himself, his party, the National Conference, and his people, the Kashmiris, grievous harm by his recent inconsiderate statements.
By asking the Chinese to come to the rescue of his state (now a Union territory) by using its ‘might’ to restore Article 370 and Article 35A, he has not only severely undermined the Kashmiri desire for autonomy, he may have even embarrassed the Chinese themselves.
It may be recalled that when the Naxalites in the 1960s and 1970s chanted China’s chairman is our chairman’ in praise of Mao Zedong, their emissary, Sourin Bose, was told by Zhou Enlai and Kang Sheng in Beijing that it was ‘wrong”‘ to regard the leader of one country as the leader of another party.
As a former Naxalite, Sumanta Banerjee, recounts in his book, In the Wake of Naxalbari, the emissary was sent in 1970 after Radio Peking stopped broadcasting the ‘achievements’ of the Naxalites, including those in Srikakulam.
Arguably, the present thuggish leaders of China may try to extract whatever mileage they can from Dr Abdullah’s statements, but the fact that he hasn’t evoked much of a response in India is a sign that even this country’s usually garrulous leadership is flummoxed by what the former chief minister has said.
As for Dr Abdullah himself, there is little doubt that he has shot himself in the foot.
By doing so, he has lost his chance of emerging as the grand old man of Indian politics who will be looked up to for words of wisdom.
He had the makings of a senior statesman with his lineage and articulation.
In tandem with Opposition leaders in the rest of the country, he could have raised the question of Kashmiri aspirations at various forums and kept the issue alive.
In the process, he might have emerged as the rallying point of a rudderless Opposition.
A prominent role across the length and breadth of the country would have energised the National Conference as well, laying the ground for a creditable performance whenever the assembly elections are held.
Irrespective of the demographic tweaking of the Kashmiri electorate, as has been alleged, there is little doubt that an alliance of the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party will fare well in the polls.
But, now, Dr Abdullah has botched it.
A call for talking to Pakistan, as Dr Abdullah did in Parliament, is one thing.
But saying that the Kashmiris will prefer Chinese rule to that of India’s is quite another.
Even ordinary Kashmiris will be appalled by such an observation, which may well be ascribed to an infirm mind, which is the sign of old age.
The problem with such ill-considered remarks is that they give the BJP an opportunity to push ahead with its nationalist agenda which includes depicting its opponents as seditionists.
Muslims, or the people of a community who can be recogniSed by the clothes they wear, as had been so described at the time of the Shaheen Bagh protests, are particularly vulnerable.
Because of the distinctive identity of the Kashmiris — the beauty of their habitat which used to be the favourite location of Hindi films, their pheran hanging from the neck to the foot to guard against the cold, their mouth-watering wazwan or multi-course meals — they were always differentiated from their co-religionists in the rest of India.
Dr Abdullah’s statement may well give the saffron spin doctors a chance to paint them all with the same brush.
As it is, the hardliners in the Hindutva camp always thought them to be pro-Pakistani; now, they are pro-Chinese as well.
It’s a double whammy.
The Opposition, too, will be in a quandary.
It will be a test of patriotism with a query which allows only one answer for saving one’s skin: Are you with Dr Abdullah or against him?
Politics in India (and probably elsewhere as well) revolves around words.
Hence, the journey from Quit India in 1942 to garibi hatao (remove poverty) in 1971 to singhasan khali karo (vacate the throne) in 1977 to achhey din (good days) in 2014.
Dr Abdullah’s gaffe may not be in the same stirring category.
But it may well enable the proponents of the scrapping of Article 370 to claim that they were after all on the right track against separatism.