Before they exchanged warm vibes in Sonamarg, the latest rounds of speculations about Rahul Gandhi-Omar Abdullah rift had acquired a Bollywoodesque ring. The reports to this effect talked about the incipient split between the two rising stars of India's political scene, the scions of the country's two foremost political dynasties, Nehrus and Abdullahs. The development had also an element of glamour: Rahul and Omar, the two dapper young men who make such pretty pictures on tabloids and glamour magazines allegedly falling out after a storied friendship.
The spate of stories about the rift followed the political furore over the killing of two sarpanches in Valley in a span of fortnight. Rahul vigorously championed the cause of panchayat members, calling for the implementation of 73rd amendment to confer more powers on panchayat members. But Omar ruled out such a possibility. His response was blunt: "We don't need government of India. We have our own constitution and when we would like we will make our amendment," the Chief Minister said at a press conference.
This is not the first time that the speculations about Rahul-Omar split have surfaced. On his last visit to the state in September last Rahul maintained a safe distance from Omar. Congress general secretary, the sources in Congress said at the time, not only refused to avail state hospitality but also declined a dinner invitation by Omar. Instead, it was Rahul, who asked Omar to join him at the Nehru Guest House for a breakfast meeting "to discuss issues of governance and coalition".
A soured Rahul-Omar relationship holds possibilities of dramatic political changes in the state, more so, with Congress becoming the necessary crutch for NC and PDP to rule the state. The only way Congress becomes irrelevant is the decimation of either of these two major mainstream parties, which looks improbable in the foreseeable future. Until then through rotational arrangment or otherwise, Congress will continue to rule by proxy.
But Rahul-Omar equation is not only about power. The relationship has an overarching historical context: it is the changing nature of the relationship between Nehrus and Abdullahs that has in large part determined the post-1947 course of history in Kashmir. From Jawaharlal Nehru-Sheikh Abdullah bond through 1975 Sheikh-Indira accord to 1986 Rajiv-Farooq pact, Nehrus and Abdullahs have helped shape the modern Kashmir with all its troubled baggage.
What, however, made this possible was NC's profile as the only grassroots-based pan-J&K political party. This gave it the authority to exclusively deal with centre to find a solution to Kashmir. And once an accord or an agreement was reached with New Delhi, the party had the ability to sell the same to people without the fear of major political backlash.
Today the context has drastically changed. NC has long stopped to be a party that occasionally made New Delhi squirm with its sub-nationalist narrative for Kashmir. In fact, PDP's advent has detracted from NC's regional political monopoly. NC has also long ceased to capture the political imagination of Kashmiris. The party has gone through a measure of de-politicization of its identity and agenda which for all practical purposes has reduced it to a sterile administrative apparatus.
What does Nehrus-Abdullahs relationship or its fluctuations mean for Kashmir under the circumstances? Not much, really. An alienated Abdullah is no longer a political challenge. NC no longer has a sole representative claim over Kashmir: the party runs the grave risk of being subsumed as a minor coalition partner of Congress in the next state government. This makes Rahul-Omar friendship or rift a little more than a political distraction, loved for the fun of it rather than its implications for the politics of the state.