Srinagar: Although it now needs only a formal announcement, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah appears to have decided against contesting from Ganderbal in the forthcoming assembly elections, thereby ending the 37-year-old political tryst of the Abdullahs with their once strongest bastion in Kashmir.
Omar Abdullah`s grandfather and patron of the regional National Conference (NC), the late Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, fought his first election from Ganderbal in 1977 after he returned to mainstream politics following the 1975 Indira-Abdullah accord. The accord ended the Sheikh`s 24-year long estrangement with New Delhi and the Nehru family that stemmed from his unceremonious ouster from the post of the state`s `prime minister` and subsequent arrest in 1953.
After the Sheikh, Omar Abdullah`s father and former chief minister, Farooq Abdullah fought the 1983, 1987 and 1996 assembly elections from Ganderbal and won. Omar Abdullah fought his first assembly election from Ganderbal in 2002, but lost to Qazi Muhammad Afzal of the PDP, whom he defeated in 2008 to become chief minister of the state in 2009.
Omar Abdullah, according to a senior minister of his party who spoke to IANS but asked not to be named, has said categorically he would not fight the elections from Ganderbal.
The minister said Abdullah blames his party rank and file in the constituency for messing up the National Conference`s act there.
"Omar Abdullah has done a lot for Ganderbal. Look at the roads, hospitals, mini secretariat and dozens of other developmental projects. Somehow Omar sahib believes NC`s local leadership in Ganderbal that has been engaged all the while fighting each other has damaged his victory chances there," said the minister.
But the common man in Ganderbal has a different story to tell.
"We thought by voting against Omar in 2002, we had been unfair to him. He seemed to be a well-intentioned young man with a clean slate. We voted for him in 2008 and see what we got? He said he would make a home here and live with us. Instead, he chooses to come here only to head official functions and not meet his people," Sheikh Abdullah Hamid, 65, who lives in Duderhama town in the Ganderbal constituency, told IANS.
"We are unable even to get our MLA`s signatures on routine papers because it is our misfortune that our MLA is also the chief minister of the state," he added.
Hamid`s comments assume significance because his late father, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, was a well-known NC worker all his life.
The youth in Ganderbal openly curse their elders for having supported the Abdullahs and the NC in the past.
"It is better if he has chosen not to contest from Ganderbal again. He would lose without any doubt. The days of the Abdullahs` magic are over. Our elders could be deceived with hollow slogans, not us," said Imran, 24.
In this year`s Lok Sabha elections, Farooq Abdullah polled around 3,000 votes less than his PDP rival, Tariq Hameed Karra, from the Ganderbal assembly segment that is part of the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency.
Would Omar Abdullah stand a better chance elsewhere after choosing not to contest from his family`s traditional constituency?
Although party sources say he prefers to fight from Sonawar in Srinagar district where his Gupkar Road residence is located and where he is registered as a voter, a formal announcement is still awaited.
Old-time NC sympathisers argue Omar Abdullah must not leave Ganderbal at all. That, according to them, would be political abdication.
"In politics there is something known as `Jeena Yahan, Marna Yahan`. He must stand from Ganderbal and prove his political rivals wrong. He still has a sizable following here than in any other place in the Valley. They are his own people. He can still clear their misunderstandings and make a match of it," said Nazir Ahmad Mir, 43, a voter in Ganderbal.
The dice may be heavily loaded against the NC in Kashmir, as was indicated in the Lok Sabha elections, in which the NC lost all the three seats from the Valley to the PDP. But if Omar Abdullah has to leave Ganderbal while his party is still grappling with the idea of whether Sonawar or any other seat would be safe for him to contest, the writing on the wall can be read before it is fully written in Jammu and Kashmir.