Ganderbal: Barometer of electoral politics

Fresh political tussle for consolidating the positions in the important assembly constituency
JKNC president Dr. Farooq Abdullah and party's vice president Omar Abdullah during a party meet in Ganderbal, on April. 25. 2023.
JKNC president Dr. Farooq Abdullah and party's vice president Omar Abdullah during a party meet in Ganderbal, on April. 25. 2023. JKNC

Having been the barometer of electoral politics for several decades in past, and having given chief ministers five times to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir from 1977 to 2008, the politically important assembly constituency of Ganderbal recently witnessed a political move by National Conference.

The party leadership expelled its former MLA Sheikh Ishfaq Jabbar from the basic membership of the party for six years for his alleged anti party activities. Ishfaq, a former police officer, who joined Congress in 2008 and later National Conference, is said to have consolidated his position over the years by being politically active and also enjoying the goodwill among some sections of people due to his family political background. His wife is presently the chairperson of District Development Council Ganderbal.

Only time can tell whether his expulsion from NC would affect him politically or not. It seems Ishfaq was mentally prepared for such an action from his ex-party even as he says "I am hurt with the expulsion."

For years he kept on launching a scathing attack on NC leadership alleging that it has deviated from the path of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Ishfaq also differed with party leadership on important issues publicly.

After his expulsion the former legislator said that he would expose those leaders in NC, who misled the party leadership and which led to his expulsion.

Ishfaq also announced that he "will not join any party" and that he will continue to work for Shaheed Sheikh Abdul Jabbar Foundation, set up after the killing of his father, Sheikh Abdul Jabbar, a prominent political leader and former minister.

NC leadership took time to take action against Ishfaq. The action on that day was preceded by the visit of NC President Dr Farooq Abdullah to Ganderbal, where he addressed a party meeting and warned those indulging in anti party activities.

The move is seen as an effort by the party to regain foothold and re-consolidate its position in the seemingly unfavourable conditions for it in Ganderbal, which was otherwise the most favourite constituency for the members of Abdullah family in past.

Three generations of Abdullah family have contested assembly polls from Ganderbal since 1977. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1977, Dr Farooq Abdullah in 1983, 1987 and 1996 and Omar Abdullah in 2002 and 2008. They have won five times and lost once in 2002 when NC's chief ministerial candidate Omar Abdullah was defeated by the PDP leader Qazi Mohammad Afzal.

The defeat completely changed the electoral scene in Kashmir. It signalled an end to almost total supremacy, dominance and control of NC on Kashmir politics.

The defeat also created an impression that a member of Abdullah family can also lose polls and that their party can be also defeated and made to lose the power.

The impact of 2002 loss was such that even Dr Farooq Abdullah had to face the first electoral defeat during his decades long political career when he lost the 2014 parliamentary elections. PDP's Tariq Hamid Qarra won at that time. This was also the first defeat of any member of Abdullah family from Srinagar Parliamentary constituency.

Like Ganderbal assembly constituency, the Srinagar Parliamentary constituency has also witnessed three generations of Abdullah family contesting from there. First it was Begum Akbar Jehan, wife of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who contested from there and later Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah also contested.

In fact Farooq and Omar launched their political careers by becoming members of Parliament first. Interestingly Ganderbal assembly segment is also part of Srinagar Parliamentary constituency.

Having given a major setback to Omar in 2002, the Ganderbal constituency elected him in 2008 elections and paved way for his first entry into J&K assembly and he becoming chief minister for six years of the NC-Congress coalition government.

His political rivals at that time claimed that it was the presence of Ishfaq Jabbar in the electoral fray in Ganderbal as Congress candidate which caused division in non-NC votes and helped Omar's victory.

If one goes by their claim it was some top government official, close to Abdullah family, who had encouraged Ishfaq to give up his government job and contest polls as Congress candidate to facilitate Omar's victory. But the claim was rubbished and denied by the NC leadership and Ishfaq also.

Later, Ishfaq formally joined NC and he was given mandate by the party to contest 2014 assembly polls and he won by a margin of 597 votes defeating his nearest rival, Qazi Afzal of PDP.

In 2014 assembly polls, Omar shifted to Sonwar constituency in Srinagar and Beerwah in Budgam and contested from both the constituencies. He lost from Sonwar but won by a narrow margin in Beerwah.

Now after the expulsion of Ishfaq, will Abdullah family return to its old bastion Ganderbal for contesting the assembly polls in future? Even if they do not go there but they will  definitely not like a cake walk for Ishfaq or other rival parties, who too might have developed an interest after the recent development.

Re-consolidating its position will be a big task for the NC. Infighting among the local leaders and workers in Ganderbal has been a problem for the party in past.

This problem had become serious since 2000. Some of the workers had started fighting at a public rally here on June 23, 2002, some time before Omar was to take over as NC President and address the people. Later in his address an angry Omar warned those resorting to infighting.

He said that he would throw them out of party and nobody will come to their rescue." Just understand one thing that time has changed now. Gone are the days when people had the belief and would say that if an electric pole will get NC mandate, it too will win polls. So much was the popularity of our party at that time. Infighting and lobbyism can damage our party further," Omar said.

His words came true as he himself lost the assembly elections that year.               

It is to be seen now that how NC is going to re-devise its strategy and keep its flock together in Ganderbal, and how Ishfaq and other parties are going to counter its moves.

Zahoor Malik is Senior Editor, Greater Kashmir.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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