Ganderbal: With Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah deciding against seeking re-election from Ganderbal, the decades-old relationship of the Abdullah family with the constituency, considered to be its stronghold, will come to an end.
The ruling National Conference (NC) yesterday announced a fourth list of candidates with its working president Omar to fight from two constituencies- Sonwar in Srinagar and Beerwah in central Kashmir's Budgam district.
Omar, however, said he had made this decision two years ago.
"Having decided two years ago that I wouldn't seek re-election from Ganderbal I've continued to work for the constituency & will always do so," Omar said on the micro-blogging site Twitter.
The Chief Minister also brushed off criticism of fighting from two constituencies saying, "so when PM candidates do it we take that as a sign of weakness too or are we conspicuously silent at that time? #justasking".
Omar's grandfather and the NC founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah joined mainstream politics and fought elections from the constituency in 1975, when the then sitting Congress MLA from the constituency Mohammad Maqbool Bhat vacated the seat for him.
Abdullah won the by-elections, became the chief minister of the state and thus started the family's relation with the constituency.
Two years later, at the end of his tenure in 1977, Sheikh again chose Ganderbal to contest the polls and won.
After Sheikh's death, his son and Omar's father Farooq Abdullah fought the polls from Ganderbal in 1983, 1987 and 1996, and won them each time.
After Omar took over the reins of the party and decided to enter state politics, he too chose Ganderbal to mark his debut.
However, he lost the elections to PDP's Qazi Muhammad Afzal in 2002, a defeat avenged by him in 2008 by defeating Qazi from Ganderbal to become the chief minister of the state.
Though there have been speculation that Omar had already decided not to fight from Ganderbal owing to the party's internal bickering, he and his party denied them earlier.
Sources in the National Conference (NC) claimed that the party's decision to give mandate to the ex-Congress man was a "compulsion" for the party, as Sheikh Ishfaq Jabbar had threatened to leave the NC if he was not given the ticket.
"We could not have afforded to ignore him this time around as it would have further worsened the situation for the party," a source claimed.
Whatever the reasons, the people in Ganderbal in general and the party cadre in particular, seem not to be happy with the decision of Omar skipping the constituency.
"We were with NC because of Omar sahib. We are not only surprised by his decision but also saddened," a youth worker of the party in Ganderbal, Sheikh Aquib said.
He said the workers of the party were not happy with the decision and it would impact its poll prospects.
Workers said giving mandate to someone who joined the party recently was a "gross injustice" to the senior leaders of the party.
"Workers like me have been associated with the party for more than 30-40 years. Ishfaq is a novice and joined party after deserting Congress. What prospects does he have (for a win)? We have been staunch supporters of the party but we cannot support him (Ishfaq). We are way senior to him," a senior worker of the NC, Mohammad Hussain, said.
Hussain said many workers of the party were weighing their options after the party move.
"We want Omar sahib to reconsider the decision. We are already weighing our options and in case he does not, we will decide what to do," he said.
The electoral battle in Ganderbal is essentially now a triangular contest between Qazi, Ishfaq and Saloori, who will fight as an independent and enjoys a mass support in the far flung areas of the constituency.
Ganderbal along with 14 other constituencies is going to polls in the first phase of the five-phased assembly elections beginning November 25.