Srinagar: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's decision to quit family political bastion Ganderbal has come as a bolt from the blue -- both for his die-hard supporters as well as his detractors.
The regional National Conference (NC) Friday announced that Omar would not seek re-election from Ganderbal constituency but contest the Sonawar and Beerwah seats, one in Srinagar district and the other in the Badgam district of the Valley.
But Omar can only prove the political wisdom of his decision to quit Ganderbal by winning both or at least one of the two seats he has chosen away from the traditional family constituency.
There is no denying the fact that the NC has been severely jolted by the Abdullah family scion leaving his lair.
Omar took to Twitter over his decision: "Having decided two years ago that I wouldn't seek re-election from Ganderbal I have continued to work for the constituency and will always do so".
Commenting on his decision to fight from two seats, Omar said: "So when PM candidates do it we take it as a sign of weakness too or are we conspicuously silent at that time?"
Since 1975 when his grandfather and NC founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah returned to mainstream politics, the Sheikh stood from Ganderbal to enter the state assembly. He again fought from Ganderbal in 1977 and won.
This family tradition was followed by Omar's father Farooq Abdullah who fought from Ganderbal in 1983, 1987 and 1996, winning thrice in a row.
Omar was fielded by the NC in 2002, but lost to PDP's Qazi Muhammad Afzal, a defeat Omar avenged in 2008 by defeating the Qazi from Ganderbal to become the chief minister of the state.
The NC rank and file in Ganderbal are unhappy that Omar decided to leave the constituency to Sheikh Ashfaq Jabbar who had fought against him on a Congress ticket in the 2008 assembly election.
"It is not done. How can you leave Ganderbal after 39 years without even fighting?", wondered a senior NC leader from there who did not want to be named.
Another NC leader, who is a member of the party's parliamentary board, told IANS: "Omar Sahib was adamant on not contesting from Ganderbal. He said he would rather not contest the assembly polls at all if the party forced him to stand from Ganderbal."
It needs to be analysed whether Omar's decision to quit Ganderbal has been prompted by reports that the dice was heavily loaded against him there or he decided to do so for other reasons.
"...he once said only voters enlisted in a constituency should seek election from there. Omar is not a voter in Beerwah while he is a voter in Sonawar," said a senior Peoples Democratic Party leader.
People in Ganderbal, however, look at it differently.
"He promised he would construct a home here and live among us after he came to seek votes during the 2008 elections. He won and never thought of that promise.
"For getting an ordinary attestation from our MLA we had to move from pillar to post because of the CM's engagements and the security around him. Yes, he did developmental works here, but trying to justify his decision by thinking we have been ungrateful is stretching things too far", said Abdul Hamid Sheikh 64, a voter in Ganderbal whose family has been die hard supporters of the Abdullahs.
Others say even if Omar did not trust the voters of Ganderbal he should have stuck on.
Muzaffar Ahmad, 42, another voter in Ganderbal, said: "He could have fought from some other place also...but abdicating Ganderbal is like the lion cub running away from his den."
"You have to go down as a man even if you think the dice is loaded against you. It was a bad decision politically that makes Ganderbal anybody's game now," he added.