Ganderbal, Aug. 27: They know they couldn’t belong to a more high profile constituency. They know they couldn’t have a more prestigious political address. They know their representative is none less than the Jammu & Kashmir chief minister himself.
But they couldn’t care less — not for the September elections, not for Farooq Abdullah.
For most of the 59,000-odd people in Ganderbal, Abdullah is little more than a name. They haven’t seen him in person since the 1996 elections. The younger lot has spotted him only on telly or making a hurried recce of the area in a helicopter. Neither he nor the polls make any sense to them. Nor do they expect anything.
“Our young generation sees him only on television. He last visited his constituency during the elections once. The crowd for his rally, I still remember, was brought in heavily guarded buses from adjoining Kangan,” says Abdul Hamid, a villager.
Another local, Ali Muhammad, is more unsparing. He says it’s not only that Abdullah does not nurture his people, he does not even bother to connect with them or stay accessible to them. And with security being stepped up several times, things had got worse.
“We are just 24 km away from Abdullah’s official residence in Srinagar, but the practical distance is unimaginable. I have not been able to meet the person even though I went there at least a dozen times,” complains 55-year-old Muhammad.
He had called at Abdullah’s Gupkar residence several times last year in connection with his son’s application for a government job. “But I failed (to meet him). I had no option as the security men never allowed me to see him,” he says.
Once the floodgates of criticism open, the villagers pile it on thick and fast. A cynic says Ganderbal is probably “the only electoral segment in the whole world where an elected representative appoints representatives to represent him to his electorate”.
Abdullah had, in fact, appointed his revenue minister Abdul Quyoom to nurse his seat. Quyoom, in turn, picked two party workers — Sheikh Ghulam Ahmad Saloora and Mohammad Ashraf — as his representatives. But the duo, instead of looking to the people’s needs, headed separate factions within the ruling National Conference and allegedly fought each other.
“They sold the major works contracts. They openly sold the class IV jobs in various government departments. We have nowhere to go. It is the relatives of Sheikh who have benefited in the past six years,” cries Zahoor Ahmad, a resident of Beehama.
The people here make no bones about the fact that they feel cheated. They say that belonging to the “most prestigious constituency” has got them nothing. For them, time has not moved since the last elections.
“Those polls failed to bring normality in our area and the Valley. We are not interested in the elections. These polls, too, will fail to solve the problem,” says Farooq Ahmad.
Till as late as Sunday, villagers had no clue who the candidates of the rival parties were. At a wedding, many were trying to place Sheikh Abdul Rashid, the BJP candidate.
“We still don’t know who this Sheikh is. We had one here but he died long back,” says Ghulam Nabi Saloora.
Several ministers and senior civil servants have made several promises to fill in for what Abdullah has left undone. Macadamised roads have come up in some places and health facilities in others, but the people are not fooled.
“The ground is fast slipping from under our feet. We have been telling party leaders to visit this constituency and address the problems of the people. Our only hope is that in the absence of a potential challenger, we will be able to retain the seat. But it depends on the voters — whether or not they come out and vote on polling day,” a National Conference worker said.