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National Conference springs a surprise in J&K

The cadres of the National Conference (NC), J&K’s oldest political party, are relieved as the party seems finally on road to regain power.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 29, 2008, 07.30 AM IST
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SRINAGAR: The cadres of the National Conference (NC), J&K���s oldest political party, are relieved as the party seems finally on road to regain power.

The re-emergence of NC, which had dominated the state politics since the early 30s, was a huge surprise across the spectrum of opinion. This time, Omar Abdullah winning back Ganderbal, the family seat, was a result foretold, largely because the incumbent legislator Qazi Afzal was the PDP forest minister who had signed the Amarnath land deal. But Abdullah senior, who seemed to have grown unpopular over the years because of his flamboyant lifestyle and flip-flops on many issues, winning both the Hazratbal and Sonawar seats, was a surprise.

NC had become the target of militancy and most of its leaders had left the Valley in the early 90s. Those who stayed printed their resignations in local newspapers. Later, some of them returned and worked as intermediaries to help release youth arrested by security agencies.

In the 1996 polls, NC emerged with a two-third majority. It actually rebuilt Kashmir as most of the infrastructure had been destroyed during the most difficult phase of militancy from 1990 to 1996. But its failure to address the crucial civil liberty issues made its numbers tumble to 24 in 2002 polls. Its alliance with NDA that helped Omar Abdullah become the MEAs poster boy was notorious in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, PDP���s focus on human rights issues made it emerge as an alternative. Since 2002, NC was in a state of dormancy, as it lacked the capacity of being an effective opposition party. It took NC three years to show signs of being an opposition, especially after Mufti Sayeed had handed power to Congress��� Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Mr Azad encouraged NC to target PDP and yet managed to keep the coalition intact till the summer agitation led to the fall of his government. In the agitation, NC tried to cater both to local Kashmiri sentiments while taking care not to offend the sensibilities in New Delhi and Jammu. As the spade work for the elections started, different tones of the NC leadership conveyed a generation gap and a sense of frustration.

Nobody expected a wipeout for the party but none was predicting such a strong showing. The election boycott in Srinagar and Sopore proved blessing for NC. It swept all the six seats in Srinagar city, which jointly polled less than 20% turnout. Even the Sopore segment in north Kashmir that had thrice been represented by Syed Ali Shah Geelani was wrested from the Congress.

���I can never forget the generosity of the people of the Ganderbal ,��� said Omar Abdullah, the NC president.
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