The Abdullahs are undoubtedly the first political dynasty of Jammu and Kashmir having remained central to state’s politics for over 80 long years.
The founder of the regional National Conference (NC), Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was born in 1905 in a middle class family of shawl traders in the Soura area of Srinagar city.
After he moved to the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) to complete his masters degree Chemistry, the Sheikh was influenced by liberal and progressive ideas those were sweeping the sub-continent during late 1920s.
Sheikh became convinced that all the miseries of the people of Kashmir owed themselves to the autocratic rule of the Dogra Maharajas who came to power after Maharaja Gulab Singh became the ruler of the state following the treaty of Amritsar between him and the British East India Company in 1846.
After he returned from AMU with his M.Sc. degree, Sheikh was the first Kashmiri Muslim to have passed his post graduation in sciences.
In 1932, the Sheikh became the president of the Muslim Conference. In his first address as the president of the Muslim Conference, he minced no words in attacking the feudal system supervised by the state’s autocratic rulers.
His mesmerizing political speeches coupled with recitation of the holy Quran, held such a sway over the downtrodden Kashmiris that the Sheikh instantaneously became their messiah.
Influenced by the secular, socialistic campaign of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sheikh’s distance with those propagating the division of the sub-continent on religious lines deepened and in 1939 he converted the Muslim Conference into the NC.
The NC was a secular, socialist party that advocated freedom for Kashmiris. In 1947, the tribal invasion of Kashmir forced the then Maharaja, Hari Singh, to seek military help from the newly-created Republic of India.
Although it was the Maharaja who signed the instrument of accession with India in 1947, there is little doubt that the accession of the only Muslim majority state with India could not have been possible without the assertive support of the Sheikh.
He became the Prime Minister of the state after independence in 1947. His revolutionary land reforms called the land to tiller laws abolished absentee landlordism in the state. The tiller became the master of the land he had so far being cultivating for the landlords.
The tiller became the master of his land while the Sheikh became the master of the hearts and minds of his people.
Despite being ousted from power and arrested in 1953, the Sheikh’s place in the hearts of his people could not be taken by any other Kashmiri leader.
In 1975 after his release, the Sheikh entered into an accord with the centre popularly called the Indira-Abdullah accord. He returned to power and despite having compromised on his avowed stand of plebiscite, he continued to remain highly popular and respected among the people.
When he died in 1982, Kashmiris mourned his death with such grief and sorrow that had perhaps been equaled only by the death of Mahatma Gandhi in India.
The reins of the NC were passed on to his Sheikh’s eldest son, Farooq Abdullah who had passed a bachelor’s degree in medicine and married an Irish nurse.
The charisma of his father helped Dr. Farooq Abdullah to carve out a special place in the hearts of Kashmiris as the ‘heir apparent’ to the great political legacy left behind by the Sheikh.
Over the years, the popularity of Dr. Abdullah started dwindling till he faced political challenges first from his brother-in-law, G.M.Shah who toppled his government in 1984 and became Chief minister of the state heading NC defectors supported by the Congress party.
Dr. Abdullah again wrested power from his brother-in-law and became the chief minister till he faced a real political challenge from the opposition led mostly by the leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami and others in 1987 elections.
He retained power in 1987 elections, but he was no longer the unchallenged leader of the masses. It is generality believed that those elections were rigged so that the Muslim United Front (MUF) formed by his opponents in the Jamaat and other smaller parties did not win any assembly seats.
It is also believed that the rigging of 1987 elections gave birth to the present armed insurgency that started in 1988 and has since not been completely contained in the state.
No elections were held in the state till 1996 when Dr. Abdullah’s NC again returned to power, but the sway the NC and its leader held over the hearts and minds of people had become largely undermined.
It was during those turbulent times that NC’s arch rival and political opponent of the Abdullahs, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed formed his own political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to lay the foundation of Kashmir’s second political dynasty, the Muftis.
Sayeed formed the PDP in 1999. Sayeed had remained a senior Congress leader till he became India’s Home Minister in the V.P.Singh headed central government in December 1989.
Sayeed claimed to fight against the dynastic rule of the Abdullahs and in the process he succeeded in laying the foundation of state’s second political dynasty.
He became the Chief Minister of the state in 2002 when he headed a PDP-Congress ruling coalition in the state.
Sayeed’s tenure saw many landmark developments like the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road for members of divided families and the trade across the line of control (LoC) between the two parts of the state under Indian and Pakistani control.
In 2008 elections, the NC managed to form a coalition government headed by Dr. Abdullah’s son, Omar Abdullah with the support of the Congress.
Omar was the third generation Abdullah to rule the state. His upbringing and the British background of his mother were generally seen as political handicaps compared to his father who was liked by common Kashmiris with whom he jelled with absolute ease.
Omar Abdullah started a tirade for corruption free governance while battling the spreading insurgency in the state. The agitation of 2010 in which nearly 90 youth were killed was largely blamed by his opponents on Omar’s mishandling.
In 2014, Sayeed’s PDP joined hands with the right wing BJP ostensibly for the development of the state. Sayeed’s passed away in 2016 and his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti became the chief minister to start the ruling tenure for the second generation of Kashmir’s second political dynasty.
Mehbooba lost power in 2018 when the BJP suddenly pulled out of her coalition government.
There are new emerging political parties and faces who are challenging the political legacies of both the Abdullahs and the Muftis in the state.
Although their sway over the masses, has over the years, been largely comprised, yet these two dynasties are still pivotal to the politics of the state as they battle their fortunes during the upcoming Lok Sabha and the state elections here.