Srinagar: Once considered one of the most powerful leaders in Congress, former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s politicking in his native place of Jammu and Kashmir has generated a lot of curiosity, with his friends as well as adversaries keenly watching his moves.
The veteran Congress leader has arrived on J&K’s political scene after a gap of more than a decade, and at the time when his loyalists have raised a banner of revolt against the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief, Ghulam Ahmad Mir. Azad’s political activities have given birth to questions on whether he is trying to send a message to the Congress high command, which has “sidelined” him, or has plans to chart out a separate path for his future politics.Azad had stayed away from J&K’s politics since 2008, when the People’s Democratic Party withdrew support to his government, even as he was elected as Rajya Sabha member from J&K in 2009 and 2015 and fought the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from the Udhampur seat.
Azad has held key ministerial portfolios and organisational responsibilities. Known for organisational skills, Azad also served as chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir between 2005 and 2008, before the PDP withdrew support to his government in the wake of the Amarnath land agitation in which 60 civilians were killed in action by the security forces.Of late, Azad has been sidelined in party affairs and was shunted out as AICC general secretary in September 2020, after he and 22 other leaders, the group known as G-23, wrote to Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi for a complete overhaul of the organisation, a full-time president and elections to the Congress Working Committee. He was also dropped from the party’s disciplinary committee last month after a group of leaders considered close to him resigned from party positions in J&K to seek Mir’s replacement as PCC chief. They help Mir responsible for the party’s “poor electoral performance”.
Amid the rift in the PCC, Azad has held public meetings in Dayalachak, Thatri, Banihal, Poonch and Surankote in the Jammu region and Devsar and Kokernag in Kashmir. He is also attending some rallies by his loyalists in the coming days.Azad’s political activities have generated a buzz in J&K, amid reports that BJP-led Union government could hold elections for UT assembly in 2022.The Centre as well as J&K administration has said elections could be held after the delimitation commission headed by a former Supreme Court judge, Justice Ranjana Desai, finalises its report.
Azad has distanced himself from the revolt against Mir, but the organisers of his public gatherings are those Congress leaders who are seeking Mir’s ouster.A number of political leaders considered close to Azad told The Wire that he is upset with the Congress high command, but he is unlikely to leave the party in the near future. “He is keeping his cards close to his chest. We don’t have any idea what he has in mind but as of now he has no plans to form a separate political party, “said a leader, wishing not to be named.
Former MLA Banihal, Vikar Rasool, said they are seeking the PCC chief’s resignation as Mir has failed to deliver during his tenure. “If someone has not performed well, he should step down in the interest of the party,” he said, adding that Congress party has faced defeat after defeat during his presidency.He also demanded that Azad should be declared as chief ministerial candidate of the party to ensure its victory in the upcoming assembly elections. “Azad Sahab has the stature and the ability to deliver success for the party,” he added.Azad commands political influence in Muslim-dominated Chenab and Pir Panchal regions of Jammu. He has goodwill and friends across the political spectrum in Kashmir but lacks any political base in the region. His plans to create strongholds for the Congress in border areas like Karnah and Gurez in Kashmir when he was chief minister failed as the party failed to win these seats in subsequent elections.Senior journalist and policy analyst Zaffar Choudhary said that Azad will compel the Congress high command to concede political space to him and added that it would be too early to comment on whether he will launch his own political outfit. “We don’t have a calendar of elections before us. Azad will keep on doing his activity, provoking the party high command to concede space to him. If that doesn’t happen, he will go to elections with an outfit of his own. But that outcome is several months away,” he said.
Choudhary, who is the editor of Jammu-based news portal The Dispatch, said the current lethargy and lack of direction in J&K politics offers Azad both cause and reason for productive engagement.“Since the Congress high command is not known to respond to situations like this, or to seize opportunities like the one in J&K, Azad appears to be working on his own and in defiance of the party leadership,” he said.Since 2014, Congress has suffered massive electoral setbacks in J&K. It failed to win any Lok Sabha seat in 2014 and 2019. In the 2014 J&K assembly elections, its tally was reduced to 12 seats from 17 it had won in 2008. In the polls, it failed to win a single seat in Hindu-majority areas of the Jammu region.
All its MLAs were Muslims and Buddhists.In the 2018 municipal polls, it failed to put up an impressive show despite regional political players like National Conference and PDP boycotting the exercise. The party did not perform well in the district development council (DDC) polls held in 2020. It managed to win 26 seats out of 280, but it doesn’t control any DDC in J&K.
Umer Maqbool/The Wire