They ran into each other around noon.
As Ganderbal voted on Sunday, Omar Abdullah, National Conference president and its candidate from Ganderbal, met his rival Qazi Mohammed Afzal of the People’s Democratic Party as the latter was coming out of a polling booth at the Boys Middle School in the town.
Omar and Qazi Afzal had faced off in the last assembly elections in 2002 as well when, in its biggest upset, Afzal defeated Omar by a narrow margin of 2870 votes. They greeted each other warmly. “He is like my nephew,” the much older Afzal said of Omar as they posed together for the media.
But the acid test Omar faces this time was overshadowed by the way Ganderbal voted. In 2002, say election commission figures, 35.2 per cent of the electorate voted. But this conceals the fact that, in this stronghold of separatists on the outskirts of Srinagar, there were some polling booths where, responding to the poll boycott call of the separatists, less than one per cent of listed voters cast their votes.
This time the overall voting in this constituency was 51.75 per cent, a 16.5 per cent increase. What this does not reveal is that, despite the azaadi seekers renewed call for poll boycott once again, long queues of voters were seen even in those areas which had hardly voted last time.
Clearly the first round of voting on November 17, which saw 68.8 per cent of people vote, is turning out a trendsetter. “We want rule by Kashmiris,” said Ghulam Nabi Mir, 42, a shopkeeper in the Gulab Bagh, explaining why he voted. “Right now we are under Governor’s Rule, which is rule by India. That will not end unless we defy the poll boycott and elect our own government.”