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JK Polls: Triangular contest in Ganderbal

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Ganderbal: The ruling National Conference’s traditional bastion Ganderbal is set for a triangular fight with PDP, NC and an Independent contesting the polls after Chief Minister Omar Abdullah decided not to contest from the constituency which goes to polls on November 25.
The electoral battle in Ganderbal is now a triangular contest between PDP’s Qazi Muhammad Afzal, NC’s Sheikh Ishfaq Jabbar and Sheikh Ghulam Ahmad Saloori, who is contesting as an Independent.
Qazi is hopeful of riding on ‘PDP wave’ that he believes is sweeping the Valley where the party is confident of better prospects than the last State polls.
“I am 100 per cent convinced that people want change. I am also sure of my win as people hate NC for its failure to keep its promises of development and employment,” he said.
“People have made up their minds to defeat NC and this mood was gauged by Omar and hence he decided not to contest from here,” he added.
Though Qazi is seen as the front-runner, Saloori’s entry into the fray has made the electoral battle interesting as there are many pockets in the Assembly segment where he enjoys formidable support.
On December 23, the verdict day, it would be clear whether National Conference dented by a series of jolts, is able to retain the constituency or will its boat sink from what was once known as its home turf.
Omar’s grandfather and the NC founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah joined mainstream politics and fought elections from Ganderbal 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.
This time Omar is contesting from Beerwah.
For the first time since 1975 when National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah won the election from here, the electorate of Ganderbal will not have an option of voting for an Abdullah as a candidate.
The party first received a major jolt when its senior leader and Farooq’s trusted lieutenant, Sheikh Ghulam Ahmad Saloori, decided to part ways from it.
After Saloori, it was another long-time NC leader Mohammad Yousuf Bhat’s turn to desert the party. Bhat, a key witness to the custodial death of NC worker Haji Mohammad Yousuf in 2011, left the party and will fight the polls on Congress ticket.
The National Conference gave mandate to the former Congress leader Ishfaq but there was strong resentment among the party workers especially among the middle and lower rung cadre who have started keeping a distance from it.
The party was hit when a youth leader from the area Farooq Ahmad Dar, alias Farooq Ganderbali moved out of the NC and joined PDP.
A day after he parted ways from the party, the NC received another shock when MLC and ex-chief Secretary of the State, Sheikh Ghulam Rasool quit the party and later joined PDP.
As the battle-lines are drawn between various parties, a new fault-line seems to have appeared in Ganderbal, Lar versus rest of the constituency.
While Qazi and Ishfaq are from the Lar region, three other candidates in fray Mohammad Yousuf Bhat (Congress), Abdul Majeed Dhobi (People’s Conference) and Ali Mohammad Baba (Panthers Party), also belong to the same area.
Ganderbal along with 14 other constituencies is going to polls in the first phase of the five-phased Assembly elections beginning November 25. (PTI)

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