When Farooq Abdullah drove to his highly fortified National Conference office on a wet March day, he was pleasantly surprised to see women workers reciting wanwun (Kashmiri folklore sung mostly during marriages) for him. The three-time chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is still young at heart.
Laced with wits and comics, Farooq, who is seeking reelection from the prestigious Srinagar parliamentary constituency, often invokes Gods these days to strike a chord with predominately religious society of Kashmir. "I am two short of 80. But I am still feeling young and fighting. But one day I have to die. So I have to prepare for that," says Farooq in chaste Kashmiri.
Known for his flamboyance, Farooq studied medicine and went on to become a medical practitioner. Quite a colorful personality in his youth, Farooq created a buzz when he rode a bike with top Bollywood actor as her pillion rider.
Though Farooq always wanted to live life on his own terms, his father and founder of National Conference (NC) Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had other plans for him. Sheikh preferred Farooq over several stalwarts including his son-in-law GM Shah to crown him president of the NC.
Farooq became the chief minister after Sheikh's death in 1982 but was toppled by his jilted brother-in-law only two years later. This led to the spilt in Kashmir's first political family with Farooq's elder sister Khalida Shah joining her husband, who named his breakaway faction of National Conference as Awami National Conference. Even today, the wounds of separation are yet to heal in the first family.
Despite his flamboyance, Farooq has been a family man all through. He married British nurse Molly and the couple has four children — Omar and three daughters; one of them Sara is married to Congress leader Sachin Pilot.
An avid golfer, Farooq does not mind shaking a leg or singing in a function. His photos with Bollywood actresses and videos of singing Hindi film songs and bhajans have invoked sharp criticism in Kashmir.
Unfazed, Farooq has never cared about the critiques and lived life king-size. Farooq is often blamed for misrule and promoting cronyism. The controversial elections of 1987 sowed the seeds of secession in Kashmir with poling agents and some candidates of his opponent Muslim United Front taking to arms just two years later.
Much water has flown down the Jhelum and Farooq too has changed his outlook. Wearing too many hats as party president, union minister, J&K cricket chief, Farooq now wants to come home to settle down in his life. "I now want to stay home and serve my people," says Farooq.
Farooq, however, is facing a tough challenge from the People's Democratic Party leader and former minister Tariq Hameed Karra who wants to pin him down in his own bastion.
A scion of political stalwart and freedom fighter Ghulam Mohidin Karra, the 59-year old law graduate is leaving no stone unturned to rewrite the electoral history of Srinagar.
From multi-crore cricket scandal to handing over the power projects to centre, PDP is banking on the anti-incumbency and trying to channelize the anger against the NC for votes
"Farooq and his family, who have been representing Srinagar for long in the parliament, have not been able to take up a single project in the constituency. Instead of putting in efforts to make the power supply better in Kashmir, Farooq has accused all of us maha chors," says Karra.
Farooq, however, is focusing on Article 370 and secret truck of Modi with PDP to counter Karra. "It is not BJP but Modi all over. Pray to God to save us and our brethren… Merchants are out to barter the Article 370 for chair (of power). We are oppressed. We have no one but God," he says.
The Srinagar seat
Spread over three districts, the Srinagar parliamentary constituency has 15 assembly segments of which NC holds 12, PDP two and independent one.
There are 11,71,752 voters in the constituency of which 6,15,259 are males and 5,56,493 are female.
NC's Farooq Abdullah, PDP's Tariq Hameed Karra are the main contestants for the seat.
Considered as pocket borough of National Conference, Srinagar goes to the polls on April 30.