M A I N   N E W S

Omar’s first road show — Stones, prayers, pleas
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Ganderbal, November 13
The former NC stronghold of Ganderbal sprung several surprises at party president Omar Abdullah today. On the one hand, it threw stones on his cavalcade, forcing the security to resort to tear gas shelling. On the other it greeted him with tears, showers of marigold, and even servings of steaming hot saffron milk.

So extreme was the response of voters here that Omar didn’t quite know how to react. But he was certainly surprised by the large crowds assembled along roadsides to see him, as he went around touching base with people.

That they had left the warmth of their homes to be with him was telling. It was a chance that Omar’s first road show in Ganderbal, where he is fighting PDP’s controversial forest minister Qazi Afzal and Congress greenhorn Ishfaq Jabbar, happened on a day when the valley saw its first snowfall.

There was breath of ice in the air — a sign sufficient to stall any campaign. But Omar proved a rocker, igniting the poll scene in the valley. Abdullah Hajjam, a local, put it this way: “It feels like old times when Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah used to visit Ganderbal. It’s a happy sign.”

While that remains debatable, Omar went out of his way to appease the fastidious electorate, which had rejected him for Afzal in 2002. To begin with, he stopped by a local ziarat to pay his obeisance, but didn’t visit the famous Hindu shrine of Kheer Bhawani located nearby.

That apart, he remained apologetic in his speeches; his tone seeking: “I have learnt the lessons you sought to teach me,” he said to people, adding: “What use is a lesson unless followed by a test. Please take my test and oblige me with your vote. I promise to pay off this debt.” Omar repeated the remark at each of the 10 places where he halted, expect Barsu village, where the supporters of Jabbar pelted stones at his motorcade.

Jabbar is the son-in-law of senior NC leader from Hazratbal Mohd Akhoon, who left his seat for Farooq Abdullah. His men, carrying Congress flags, ended up in a bloody scuffle with NC workers today, forcing the situation out of control.

But that was no deterrent for NC supporters, who came wrapped in red flags to hear their leader speak. Politically speaking, the day was significant, with Omar playing the Amarnath card against Qazi Afzal, accusing him of being the man who put the state on fire, divided Hindu and Muslims and sold off the jungles. The already polarised crowds reacted with mad frenzy, which Omar used to his NC’s advantage. He referred to how Afzal had failed to fulfill his promise of employing two people per household in Ganderbal.

“It was Farooq Abdullah who got an Islamic University for Ganderbal; proposed a hydraulic power plant for the area, and gave free power. PDP only gave electricity metres without giving electricity,” said NC chief, injecting humour into his speech lest the crowds should disperse. He even spoke Kashmiri to establish a better connection with the people, even though he is not known to be comfortable with the language.

Overall, the day really was all about the power of democracy, where the tallest of leaders have to bow before the will of people. And Omar did well to admit to his past mistake of neglecting the constituency. Today he struck an emotional chord with his grandfather’s pet constituency, saying: “Ganderbal can abandon me, but I can’t abandon Ganderbal. Let me make it clear that I am not contesting any seat except this,” he said at the massive rally in Wokuradab, where the road show concluded after sunset today.



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