As National Conference raises pitch for autonomy for J&K, party's hopes lie in strengthening youth base

Srinagar: Kashmir’s grand old party, the National Conference, is getting younger again, not if you go by the age of the attendees who thronged the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium during the party delegates' conference in Srinagar, or by the re-election of its 80-year-old president, but by the presence of youngsters who are slowly and silently taking its message to the youth who form 65 percent of the state's population.

Young party workers in their early twenties and thirties from across the state, dressed in white kurtas and expensive suits, thronged Srinagar on Sunday to take part in the party's delegates' conference, which was held after 15 years.

The Sunday rally seems to have induced a fresh lease of life into mainstream politics in the Valley, the National Conference, in particular, which had been pushed to the margins after the killing of former Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

With over 15,000 party workers attending the conference, it was the biggest political rally since Wani's death, and particularly after scores of political workers were threatened by militants.

As National Conference raises pitch for autonomy for J&K, partys hopes lie in strengthening youth base

National Conference president Farooq Abdullah with son Omar. PTI

Surprisingly though, National Conference seems reluctant to let go of the old-guard re-electing 80-year-old Farooq Abdullah as its president at the conference. The party also passed a resolution vowing to continue its struggle for the restoration of the autonomy of the state as enshrined in the Constitution of India. The resolution demanded an end to the muscular policy (of the Centre) and initiation of dialogue.

"Conflicting statements from BJP leaders have left the people confused about the role Dinneshwar Sharma is going to play," said NC leader Omar Abdullah, adding, "Even he (Sharma) will also be feeling confused."

Criticising Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Omar said she used to say Wani was created by wrong policies of National Conference. "If Wani was a result of my mistakes, I want to ask you how many Wanis and Zakir Musas have you created," Omar said.

As the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister sharpened his attack on the ruling PDP and BJP government in the state and the Narendra Modi led government in Centre, the enthusiasm among the younger cadre of the party was visible.

Abdul Rashid Ganie had travelled 75 kilometers from the Qazigund area of South Kashmir to see Abdullah senior being re-elected as the president of National Conference. Ganie said despite the worsening situation in south Kashmir, hundreds of National Conference workers had travelled from his village to attend the party function.

Abdul Rashid Ganie, 75, is one of the oldest National Conference members. Sameer Yasir/Firstpost

Abdul Rashid Ganie, 75, is one of the oldest National Conference members. Sameer Yasir/Firstpost

"Look at the crowd," Ganie, 75, said as he entered the venue of the rally, adding, "These are not paid daily wagers, but workers. That is why I have come so far away."

Ganie said that he wanted the baton of the party affairs in the hands of younger people like Omar, son of Farooq Abdullah.

Abdullah senior, who had held the post of party president of the National Conference since 1981, was re-elected on Sunday. In 2002, Abdullah senior had passed the baton to his son, Omar. However, Omar had resigned from the post in 2009 after taking over as the chief minister of the state.

The fresh resolution by the party marks the revival of National Conference's core political ideology, which is the restoration of the state's autonomy.

Abdullah senior reiterated the party’s resolve towards protecting Jammu and Kashmir's special status and ensuring that all the three regions of the state are united against forces inimical to peace.

Although the re-election of Abdullah senior came as a disappointment for many young workers of the party, who wanted Omar to take full charge of the party and Abdullah senior to be the party patron. But Omar wished to utilise the experience of his father in guiding the party.

Sahil Singh Jamwal of National Conference. Sameer Yasir/Firstpost

Sahil Singh Jamwal of National Conference. Sameer Yasir/Firstpost

The National Conference needs the support of the younger generation in the state, who were to a large extent responsible for changing the political fortunes of the ruling Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party.

"This must be the only party which has such a huge presence in all the three regions, and among all religions," Sahil Singh Jamwal, a National Conference student leader from Jammu, told Firstpost.

"But the party needs to focus on the youth, which has been missing for a long time," he added.

For years, the National Conference has failed to focus on youth, the majority population of the state. But if the Sunday’s rally, which saw a participation of over 15,000 National Conference members, was an indication the scenario seems to be changing.

"You need fresh ideas and innovations to counter the widening gap and politics of communalism between the three regions of the state,” said Faaiz Dijoo, 31, a young party worker from Srinagar.

Faaiz Dijoo, a young party worker of National Conference. Sameer Yasir/Firstspot

Faaiz Dijoo, a young party worker of National Conference. Sameer Yasir/Firstspot

"Why National Conference is important to the political discourse in the state, is because even in these circumstances, the party can pull a crowd of 20,000 people," he added.

As the National Conference reviews its demand of autonomy for the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the party would “need these young people to propagate its ideology" among the younger generation of Kashmiris and people from Jammu and Ladakh, says Gani.

"I am hopeful now after seeing so many young people here today," he adds.

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Updated Date: Oct 30, 2017 13:50:16 IST

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