Ganderbal, Nov 13: Abdullah family pocket borough Ganderbal dominated the electoral politics of the state for 39 long years till Omar Abdullah decided not to contest for this north Kashmir assembly seat. And this could mean — advantage PDP. Having won the 2008 elections from here to become the chief minister of the state, Omar this year left this constituency, fielding a lesser known entrant into the regional National Conference (NC), Sheikh Ashfaq Jabbar.
For the Abdullahs, Ganderbal had been a family stronghold in the past. Omar’s grandfather and founder of the regional National Conference (NC), the late Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, contested polls from here in 1975 after he returned to mainstream politics following an accord with then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
The Congress made its then sitting legislator, Muhammad Maqbool Bhat, resign the seat for the Sheikh to enter the state assembly in 1975. The Sheikh again won from here in 1977. Omar’s father Dr. Farooq Abdullah stood from here in 1983, 1987 and 1996 winning all those elections as the NC’s chief ministerial candidate.
Omar Abdullah joined state politics by fighting the 2002 assembly elections from Ganderbal, but was shocked by PDP’s lesser known candidate, Qazi Muhammad Afzal, who defeated Omar by over 2,700 votes. The defeat was avenged by Omar in the 2008 elections by defeating Afzal from here by over 6,000 votes.
Omar quitting the constituency has thrown political equations into a disarray in Ganderbal. NC’s arch rival, the PDP has fielded Qazi Muhammad Afzal from here and Omar’s exit has tilted the balance in his favour. Sitting NC legislator in the upper house of the state’s bicameral legislature and former chief secretary who belongs to the Ganderbal constituency, Sheikh Ghulam Rasool has added to the NC’s problems here.
He recently joined the PDP after resigning from the NC. Ashfaq’s father, Sheikh Jabbar, an old NC leader, was pivotal in engineering defections in the party in 1984 of those who toppled the government of Omar’s father, Farooq Abdullah.
The 1984 ‘coup’ brought Farooq’s brother-in-law, G.M. Shah, to power and Jabbar was a minister in Shah’s government that ruled for 18 months with Congress support from outside. Ashfaq fought the 2008 elections against Omar as a Congress candidate, but finished third after Omar won, defeating arch rival Qazi Muhammad Afzal of the PDP.
Sheikh Ghulam Ahmad Saloora, a senior NC leader, has deserted the party and is now fighting from here as an independent candidate. The Congress has fielded Muhammad Yusuf Bhat from here. Bhat has also been a former NC leader. Bhat shot into news headlines for wrong reasons in 2011 when another NC leader, Haji Yusuf, died in mysterious circumstances in police custody after visiting Omar’s residence in Srinagar in September 2011.
Bhat had accused Haji Yusuf of accepting Rs.82 lakh as bribe for getting him a legislator’s seat in the upper house of the state legislature. Both Yusuf and Saloora are expected to chip into the traditional NC vote bank that might not vote en bloc for Ashfaq because of past betrayal of his father against the NC.
The BJP and the Peoples Conference headed by Sajad Gani Lone has also fielded candidates from here. The main contest here would be between the NC and the PDP. “It is a do or die situation for us, but I am sure we will win this seat comfortably”, Qazi Afzal said while commenting on his victory prospects.
Ashfaq is equally confident. “I have no doubt that I will win the seat with people’s blessings,” he said. Saloora said it was his decision to leave the NC that forced Omar not to even test the political waters in Ganderbal this time. “Omar has run away. How can his proxy win now?” Saloora told IANS.
There are 90,529 voters, including 47,061 males and 43,467 females who would be exercising their franchise Nov 25 at 111 polling stations in Ganderbal. The PDP leadership is already counting Ganderbal in its kitty. Despite a clear advantage, the victory of the PDP might not be a foregone conclusion. Elections are known to throw up surprises, whether or not Ganderbal does that would be known Dec 23 when votes are counted here.