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Sonrise in Srinagar

Decks seem to have been cleared for the smooth transition of power from another father to son. Farooq Abdullah, the National Conference chief and Kashmir chief minister has made his plan clear to bring his son Omar Abdullah, minister of state for foreign affairs in the Vajpyee government to state politics by making him the National Conference chief. Farooq has also made it clear that he wants to graduate to centre after his high profile chief ministership in the state and his son will be brought to the state as NC chief as early as April this year. Farooq Abdullah took over the reins of power in the state from his father, the late Sheikh Abdullah more than two decades back in 1981. 

The junior Abdullah's shift to the state has been well received among the party's rank, believed to be a pocket party of the Abdullah clan. The time chosen by his father for the task is also significant as the party is bracing for the grand electoral battle a few months from now. Elections are slated to be held in the state in October this year. 

Abdullah, who first contested the Lok Sabha polls in 1998 from Srinagar, was seen as a greenhorn, but later while serving in different ministries as junior minister at the centre, he has proved his worth. The BJP government has used his services to the hilt in his latest avatar as the minister of state for foreign affairs. He has been projected as India's Kashmiri Muslim face in the world by the BJP government and has used him in furthering India's interest in the world forums. In the external ministry he has surprised his adversaries while proving to be an able campaigner of India's cause. 

For some time now, Farooq has made it known that he is not averse to shifting to Delhi if he can get the right post: President or Vice-President. But he has also said that even if he is not able to go to the centre, then too he wants to leave the state politics. 

Omar's joining the Kashmiri politics for the first time will lead to drastic changes not only in the party, but also in the state's administrative set-up in case he takes over as the head of the government in the state. Insiders believe that he may bring a totally new team of ministers and MLA's replacing the old lot. The young and suave inheritor is thus being seen as a new beginning for the NC as a party. 

But sailing may not be such an easy job for the young Abdullah. There are formidable challenges he will have to face after taking over the NC from his father. His first and foremost job will be to rejuvenate the NC so that it can fight the forthcoming assembly elections. This is easier said than done. The morale of party workers is very low. The party has obviously not been given much importance. Apparently more importance was paid to be able to cobble up a government in the state with centre's assistance. The NC has also lost a large number of its cadre during the last decade due to lack of party work and erosion of its base. The forthcoming polls are thus going to be a tough fight for the young son.

Demands being made by the Hurriyet Conference that elections should be held under the international observers will further make things difficult for Omar Abdullah, as there will be no scope of rigging left.

There is also fear that Omar's uncle Sheikh Mustafa Kamal, industries minister in the state, may also challenge him. Though Kamal has himself scoffed at these speculations. Omar's succession is not seen in a particularly bad light. Yes, it amounts to perpetuating dynastic rule, but who cares. There are people who believe that Hurriyet will not contest polls, and it will be an easy sailing for the junior Abdullah.
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