National Conference buoyant on Omar’s re-emergence from Ganderbal

November 21st, 2008 - 3:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Nov 21 (IANS) Six assembly constituencies, including the high profile Ganderbal from where National Conference president Omar Abdullah is contesting, will see voting Sunday in the second round of the seven-phase elections in Jammu and Kashmir.Having lost elections to his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) rival Qazi Muhammad Afzal in 2002, Omar is again pitted against Qazi — and 10 other candidates including from the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Panthers Party and independents.

Qazi defeated Omar from Ganderbal in 2002 by 2,870 votes.

Qazi’s score among the people in the constituency has since definitely been on the downslide because of the controversial allotment of 40 hectares of forest land to the board that manages the affairs of the two-month annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath Hindu cave shrine.

He held the forest portfolio when the land row protests broke out in the valley, ultimately bringing down the Congress-PDP government in the state.

Omar Abdullah’s mantra to defeat the Qazi this time is straight and earthy.

From road shows to public rallies he has been addressing in Ganderbal, Omar Abdullah has a plea-and-pardon message for the voters.

“Qazi plundered the forests. He promised you the heavens and made millions for himself through brazen corruption.

“He sought your vote because of being a local. And when he came to power, the Islamic University which the National Conference promised to set up in Ganderbal was shifted to (south Kashmir’s) Anantnag district.

“Yes, I committed mistakes in the past. Pardon me for my past mistakes, but punish Qazi by bringing us to power.”

Omar Abdullah’s public pleadings appear to be having an effect. No wonder his party cadres are upbeat about his victory.

Ironically, the challenge for Omar Abdullah in Ganderbal this time is not from the PDP but from the Congress.

The Congress has fielded Sheikh Muhammad Ashfaq, who belongs to Lar village in Ganderbal. This is also the ancestral village of Qazi.

Ashfaq, who resigned from the police department recently to contest the elections, is the son of the former minister and senior National Conference leader Sheikh Abdul Jabbar.

Jabbar had defected with 17 other legislators of the National Conference from the Farooq Abdullah-led government, bringing Farooq’s brother-in-law G.M. Shah to power in the state in 1984.

Jabbar was killed by separatist guerrillas in Lar village in early 1990s, but his goodwill in Ganderbal is still intact.

Ashfaq largely depends on his father’s goodwill, his clean image and what he calls “the misdoings of Qazi and the track record of the National Conference of having done little for the people of Ganderbal”.

Ashfaq’s public meetings have been impressive, especially in the Lar belt of the constituency which has around 15,000 voters. It is mainly this chunk that Ashfaq is targeting.

The bad news for both Ashfaq and Qazi is that the constituency has 77,616 voters (including 37,634 women).

Except for the Lar belt, the National Conference this time seems to be well entrenched in Gulab Bagh, Saidpora, Shehama, Alusteng, Pandach, Saloora, Bamlora, Chanduna, Tullamulla, Beehama, Benhama, Wakura, Yangoora and a few other villages. Many villagers at these places openly declare allegiance to the National Conference.

“Omar Abdullah shall win hands down this time. He asked for pardon and we have decided to give him a fair second chance,” said Nazir Ahmad, 39, a voter in Benhama village.

A total of 79 polling stations have been established in Ganderbal.

The constituency was represented by Omar Abdullah’s grandfather and National Conference founder, the late Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, in 1977 and by his father Farooq Abdullah in 1983, 1987 and 1996.

In neighbouring Kangan constituency, the National Conference’s influential former minister Mian Altaf Ahmad is again in the contest.

Belonging to the Gujjar community, Mian Altaf is the strongest candidate the National Conference has fielded. Because of the reverence in which the family is held, Mian’s victory is a foregone conclusion though he has nine opponents including from the Congress, PDP, Panthers’ Party and BJP.

Mian Altaf won the 2002 elections from Kangan on the National Conference ticket, defeating PDP’s Ghulam Muhammad Dar by 11,039 votes.

He also won from Kangan in 1996. His father, the octogenarian veteran Gujjar leader Mian Bashir Ahmad, won from this constituency in 1967 and 1977. Mian Altaf’s grandfather Mian Nizamuddin won here in 1957 and 1962.

“Hoping or trying to win elections against Mian Altaf Ahmad from Kangan is liking believing one could steal meat from the Eagle’s nest”, said Abdul Samad Sheikh, 69, headman of Haripora village.

Besides Ganderbal and Kangan in the Kashmir Valley, four constituencies of Rajouri, Kalakote, Nowshera and Darhal in the Jammu region will also vote Sunday to elect their representatives.

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