Jammu: Shedding the tag of an ‘outsider’, Omar Abdullah, who was sworn in as the youngest chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has emerged from the shadows of his more illustrious father Farooq Abdullah in a meteoric rise to carve a niche for himself.
Ten years is not a long period in politics since he became a MP in 1998, especially in the complex cauldron of insurgency-hit Jammu and Kashmir, but Omar, the business management expert, showed exceptional adaptability, political acumen and articulation to evolve as a matured politician and win more admirers.
Considered an outsider initially for having education in Mumbai, 38-year-old Omar, holder of a masters degree in business administration, not only learnt fluent Kashmiri quickly to make himself acceptable among the masses but led the party through a testing time when it was in opposition and reached out to the people of the state.
National Conference chief Omar Abdullah. (File photo)
As he scaled the political ladder as a National Conference (NC) MP at the age of 28 to head of the party when he was 31, Omar was level-headed in his approach to show maturity not usually seen in his age group and which belied his boyish looks.
The qualities of a mature politician in young Abdullah came to the fore in Lok Sabha in July 2008, during the confidence vote when in a fiery extempore speech lashed out at the BJP and supported the Indo-US nuclear deal leaving almost the entire House spell bound.
He started his own blog which received maximum response from the youth of Kashmir and Omar used this forum to reach out to them and take their constructive suggestions for inclusion in his party’s manifesto.
Scion of Kashmir’s first political family, Omar started his political career as a Lok Sabha member in 1998 and was re elected a year later. He went on to become the youngest union minister at the age of 29 under the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
He served as union minister of State, Commerce and Industry in the NDA government. After two years, he was made the union minister of State for External Affairs.
After NC snapped ties with NDA, Omar, the grandson of Kashmir’s tallest leader Sheikh Abdullah, was handed over the party’s mantle by his ageing father in 2002.
It was baptism by fire for Omar as he took over the reins of the party just ahead of the assembly polls of 2002.
Even though NC emerged as the single largest party in the polls, it was a dismal start for Omar personally at the state level as he lost from the family stronghold of Ganderbal in the Valley.
The defeat in Ganderbal was a lesson for Omar, who far from being disheartened by the defeat, concentrated on nurturing not only his own constituency but other parts as well in order to strengthen the party.
That Omar acts from his conviction was evident in 2006, when despite the disapproval of the UPA government, he had a one-on-one meeting with the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad. The meeting was the first of its kind between a mainstream political leader from Kashmir and the Pakistan government.
Omar escaped an assassination bid in 2007 when suspected militants fired two rifle grenades targeting him when he was interacting with party workers at a NC leader’s house.
He was nominated as Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in 2000-2001 besides leading the Indian delegations to UNESCAP Conference in Bangkok in 2000, World Economic Summit in Rio-de-Janeiro in 2000.
He was leader of Indian delegation to UN World Conference on Racism in Durban in 2001 and Haj Conference in Jeddah.
Omar was also the Prime Minister‘s Special Envoy to Libya in 2001 and Panelist in the Special Economic Forum Annual meeting in New York in 2002.
Married to Payal, Omar has two sons Zamir and Zahir who stood by their father during his victory run at Ganderbal on December 28 2008.