M A I N   N E W S

Polls 2008
Jammu & Kashmir
In Ganderbal, Amarnath ghost haunts PDP
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Ganderbal, November 19
Two days after Bandipora shocked pollsters with a massive turnout, the neighbouring north Kashmir constituency of Ganderbal remained surprisingly unimpressed. Sleepy as ever, the high-profile segment, once hailed as NC patron Farooq Abdullah’s bastion, kept all cards close to its chest even as PDP president Mehbooba Mufti came calling to appease an angry electorate.

While she rallied behind PDP candidate and former forest minister Qazi Afzal, seeking re-election from Ganderbal, the voters remained firm in their opinion of the latter. “Qazi wronged us terribly by transferring the land to Amarnath Shrine Board. He can’t even claim a space for burial in Ganderbal. He must go away,” shouted a section of the crowd after Mehbooba left.

The sentiment of frustration over Amarnath land row reigned elsewhere in the constituency, where people hold Qazi Afzal squarely responsible for the mess. “Qazi is illiterate and he signed the papers without the knowledge of what they meant. He has committed an unpardonable sin,” said Abdullah Hajjam, a village elder, adding he has never seen the Valley as angry as in the aftermath of land transfer row which claimed over 60 lives.

With the issue raging, Qazi is finding it hard to escape the repercussions, though he says it is all NC’s doing. But he is not quitting yet. With the ghost of Amarnath haunting him where ever goes, he manages to spring an apology ever now and then. Locked in a straight contest with NC chief Omar Abdullah and Congress’ Ishfaq Jabbar, Qazi starts every speech apologetically: “Whatever happened should have never happened at all,” he says, only to be challenged by Omar Abdullah, whose never fails to warn Ganderbal against forgiving Qazi.

“He is the man who plunged the state into a crisis and caused the division between Hindus and Muslims. He will seek apologies, but don’t forgive him,” Omar implores voters in an attempt to bounce back to power in the former family stronghold.

For Omar, the November 23 polls in Ganderbal are as much a battle of nerves as they are for Qazi Afzal, who won the seat with a margin of 2870 votes in 2002. Traditionally, the segment has stayed with NC whose patron Farooq Abdullah represented it in 1983, 1987 and 1996. Omar faces the formidable task of winning back Ganderbal, and in doing so, he too is banking on apologies for having neglected the area.

But Qazi is not leaving any stone unturned. He is banking on the district stats he got for Ganderbal — a demand he says NC could not fulfill in 40 years.

In NC, however, Amarnath remains the strongest weapon, which they use on every forum. Omar is heard saying everywhere: “I may be an outsider but I did not put Ganderbal on fire; my children did not sell off your jungles.”

In the midst of charges and counter charges over Amarnath, a section of voters in Ganderbal remain unmoved. “Yes, Amarnath is an issue, but freedom is a larger issue. Most of us are not interested to vote,” says Mohd Yasin, a student, who feels Congress’ candidate Ishfaq Jabbar may be at an advantage this time considering people’s frustration in the NC and PDP.

The fate of three candidates now rests with 77627 voters of Ganderbal, who will vote in the second phase on November 23.



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