Jammu: Omar Abdullah, the 38-year-old leader of the National Conference, was on Monday sworn in as the new chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir after elections that attracted a higher turnout than many politicians and voters expected.
He took the oath of office at a tightly guarded auditorium in Jammu, the state’s winter capital.
Despite a boycott call by separatists and Islamic rebels, more than 60% of voters took part in the polls, which came after a period of President’s rule that was imposed because the incumbent coalition government of the Congress party and the People’s Democratic Party fell over a land dispute.
J and K governor NN Vohra (left) greets newly elected CM Omar Abdullah after the latter’s oath-taking ceremony on Monday / PTI
Abdullah was backed by India’s ruling Congress party for the top job, after polls in the troubled Muslim-majority region produced no single party strong enough to form the government on its own.
“I swear to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India,” said Abdullah, wearing a long black coat and white salwar at the ceremony, which was attended by Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi.
Nine others, including senior Congress leader Tara Chand Sharma, who has become deputy chief minister, also took oath at the ceremony. The newly constituted council of ministers includes five ministers each from the National Conference and the Congress.
English-born Abdullah inherited the party leadership in 2002 from his father, Farooq Abdullah, but is seen as more moderate.
“Omar is more acceptable. He is young and understands the Kashmir dispute well. He has promised to facilitate talks between separatists and New Delhi,” said Yasmeen Ali, a lecturer. “I am hopeful he will deliver.”
The National Conference won 28 of the state assembly’s 87 seats, while the Congress party bagged 17.
Soon after taking oath, Omar said he will try to “heal wounds” of the two-month-long Jammu agitation and two decades of militancy in Kashmir.
Tight security arrangements were made for the ceremony.