| Afzal in Srinagar. (Reuters)
Srinagar, Oct. 10: A little-known political worker turned giant killer today when he humbled the best bet of the National Conference — star campaigner and chief ministerial candidate Omar Abdullah.
Qazi Mohammad Afzal, the People’s Democratic Party candidate who defeated Omar in the prestigious Ganderbal constituency, not only dealt the biggest blow to the National Conference but also heralded its defeat. By the end of the day, the party had been reduced to a mere 28 in the 87-member Assembly.
Ganderbal, 23 km from Srinagar district, was the traditional bastion about which the Abdullah family did not have to think twice when it decided to field Omar from there.
Qazi, however, said that “from day one” he was “sure” of winning the seat. “The people of Ganderbal were completely alienated from the National Conference and I had no doubt it would lose the seat,” he said after being declared elected. Chief minister Farooq Abdullah “never bothered to visit the area and people saw him only on TV”.
Omar came to the heavily guarded counting centre at Hotel Centaur on the bank of the Dal Lake. He sat under a willow tree sipping hot tea as the counting was going on inside. Within minutes some party workers came running out.
“What is the news from inside'” Omar asked one. The activist whispered something in his ear and Omar shot back: “It is only the fourth round. We will win Ganderbal and other seats, too.”
“We will get at least 45 seats and it is my party which will form the next government. I have no doubt about it,” he added.
But as news started reaching him about his party’s worsening position, Omar started getting tense. And when he trailed in the fifth and sixth round, he decided to return to his Gupkar house.
As the counting progressed, panic gripped the few dozen National Conference supporters. Finally, the news was out: Omar Abdullah had lost in Ganderbal. It was a signal for the supporters to troop out.
Qazi’s supporters rushed out of the hotel carrying him on their shoulders. “We are proud of you,” one excited supporter told him. “You have finally uprooted the huge chinar tree.”
As his supporters celebrated, he went inside the counting centre where shell-shocked National Conference workers were awaiting more results. He hugged each one of them. “We will now try to bring India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir on one table to resolve this Kashmir issue once for all,” he said.
Qazi said he had “full faith” in the Prime Minister. “We want this issue to be resolved peacefully.”