As Srinagar erupted and India's "Kashmir question" returned to haunt it, the buzz in Lutyens' Delhi was near unanimous: Omar Abdullah was not up to the job and needed to be replaced as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir by his father, Farooq Abdullah. Alternatively, sections of the Congress spread the story that the party would break its alliance with the Abdullahs' National Conference (NC) and instead support a government led by the People's Democratic Party (PDP), founded by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. The Sayeeds and the Abdullahs are old rivals.
Such suggestions were deeply disquieting. True, Omar Abdullah hasn't quite been an achiever in two years as chief minister. True, his greying hair, so evident on television, indicates the pressure he is under. Even so, would replacing him with his father (or anybody) be the answer?
It would be worth arguing that any chief minister in Omar's situation would have done as badly. When a critical mass of your population virtually rises in revolt, or has been successfully instigated to do so, there is often little an administrator can do except wait for emotions to ebb. The other option is complete crackdown, and that remedy often worsens the ailment.
This is not to say Omar doesn't have his faults. That he has been unable to expand the constituency for the NC or for India in two years would indicate a failure - or perhaps an inability to try hard enough. However, much of that is beside the point. What Kashmir is experiencing and what it is bracing for is of quite another order.
There are two aspects to India's Kashmir predicament. The first is internal. It involves insensitive handling of what may be termed India's "frontier provinces". As in the Northeast, in Jammu and Kashmir too the federal government - successive federal governments - have sought to buy local elites, prop up symbolic leaders, play off factions.
It is not as if these people - these propped-up leaders - entirely lack local support or are not well meaning. Farooq Abdullah, the most enduring such example, has worked with every political party and government in New Delhi in the past 25 years and has served India exemplarily. At grave personal risk and before international audiences, he has spoken up for India, for Kashmiri identity within India and for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India. These are not attributes to be sneezed at.
Nevertheless, there is only so far you can go with the Abdullahs. In the end, an engagement of the PDP and, beyond that, of any available section of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference - the coalition of, depending on how you see them, Kashmiri separatists, Kashmiri nationalists and Kashmiri Islamists (and often a combination of all three) - is unavoidable.
This template was put in place in 2002, when Jammu and Kashmir had its first genuinely free election, one the Hurriyat cussedly boycotted. It brought the PDP and the Congress to power. It was expected that the BJP-led government, then in office in New Delhi, would use the opportunities thrown up by popular participation in that election to nudge sections of the Hurriyat. If it succeeded, this would expand the "mainstream" political space, whatever that loaded expression means in the context of the Valley.
Not everybody was convinced. Enough people in New Delhi seemed wary of the Hurriyat. When the Congress/UPA came to office in 2004, it was positively dismissive of the idea. It went back to an old model for Kashmir, didn't quite encourage those in the Hurriyat who were half-ready to talk, snubbed Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and reverted to the NC.
Extremists in the Hurriyat were now strengthened. They chuckled and said they were right in not trusting New Delhi in the first place, and that the Indian state was not serious.
This brings us to the second aspect of the Kashmir issue - the external environment. There is an element of pan-Islamism to Kashmiri activism. At various stages that element is dominant or relatively less important. In the post-9/11 period, for about six years the Islamist element was less visible than it is today. In the past two years - since the agitation over the Amarnath Yatra in 2008 - it has gradually returned to the forefront.
There is a context to this. After the attacks on the Twin Towers, the locus of jihad in South Asia shifted to Afghanistan and then Pakistan, with the Americans as the greater enemy. Kashmir benefited and the levels of violence came down. It was also recognised by separatist leaders that the international community was now more likely to view Kashmiri acts of bloodshed and killings of civilians as part of jihadist terror than of self-determination.
This temporarily quietened the more menacing voices in the Hurriyat, such as those of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the Islamist leader who more or less advocates Kashmir's unification with Pakistan. Today Geelani is back, and in full force. His acolytes in the Hurriyat have masterminded the stone throwing on the streets of Srinagar.
What is the implication of this? Actually, there are three implications.
First, the years between 2002 and, roughly, 2008 offered New Delhi's best chance to win over new allies in the Valley and, if it were really bold in its moves, to divide the Hurriyat. This would have required high-level political ownership of the internal dimensions of the Kashmir issue. Unfortunately, this did not happen, and the Congress must take much of the blame. The prime minister was engaged in foreign policy and - among other things - the external dimensions of the Kashmir issue. As home minister, Shivraj Patil didn't understand the complexities and the short window available. In short, India blew that chance.
Second, the Geelani groupies and the separatists are not going in for a high-cost conflict with security forces. They know that is a war they cannot win. Instead, they are using the camouflage of civil disobedience - great throngs on the streets, some of them throwing stones - and are waiting for Indian troops to fire back on theoretically "unarmed" protestors or beat them up. As Israel has discovered, the public relations consequences of such a response, often unavoidable as it may be, can be devastating.
This is something India has to factor in. Internal security protocols have to be revisited and revised for a new form of adversity that is at once more sophisticated and more sinister, and uses 24/7 television as a force multiplier.
Third, once again the pan-Islamist tendencies within Kashmiri identity politics are gaining ground. The wider framework is changing. There is a belief that Afghanistan could see an American exit and a Taliban-type regime take charge. If this happens, Al Qaeda and the various wings of the Taliban will seek new theatres for jihad. Kashmir would certainly be in with a shout.
This sombre situation may not materialise; President Barack Obama may not eventually withdraw his troops from Kabul in July 2011. Even so, those who provoked the crowds in Srinagar through the past fortnight certainly seem to believe Islamism has broken America's will - and could yet break India's will.
This constellation could potentially lead to an Indian security nightmare in Kashmir. Its solutions - like its origins - are well beyond Omar Abdullah.
Ashok Malik is a journalist writing on, primarily, Indian politics and foreign policy, and inflicting his opinion on readers of several newspapers for close to 20 years. He lives in Delhi, is always game for an Americano and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.