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Ghulam Nabi Azad’s new party may become a nest for J&K’s  politicians

Ghulam Nabi Azad's new party may become a nest for J&K's politicians

Like elsewhere across the country, switching political loyalties has had a long history in Ghulam Nabi Azad’s home State of Jammu and Kashmir. Immediately after his exit from the Congress party, Azad has disclosed that he would be soon launching a new political party, beginning with its first unit in Jammu and Kashmir which is preparing for the Union Territory’s first Assembly elections.

 

As of now, over 20 of his prominent loyalists, who include around a dozen of the former Ministers, MLAs and MLCs, have supported Azad’s resignation. They include former Ministers RS Chib, Ghulam Mohammad Saroori, Jugal Kishore, Haji Abdul Rashid. The newly appointed President of the Jammu Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC), Vikar Rasool Wani, has declared his allegiance and obedience to the AICC leadership but most of the Congress veterans are still tight-lipped over Azad’s resignation through a scathing communication.

On Saturday, a group of the outgoing Congress leaders including Jugal Kishore, Saroori, Rashid, Gulzar and ex-MLA Choudhary Akram visited Azad with bouquets at his New Delhi residence.

There are now all eyes on senior leaders like the former JKPCC Presidents Saifuddin Soz, Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, Ghulam Ahmad Mir, former General Secretary Taj Mohiuddin and ex-MP Tariq Hamid Karra, besides a number of the veterans in Jammu. Mainly their support or opposition would make clear whether Azad was a lone wolf for the Gandhi dynasty or a body blow for the Congress.

Political migration has gone meteoric in J&K after the BJP brought down Mehbooba Mufti’s government in June 2018 and perceptibly encouraged defections in her Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP ended up as the worst loser as over 20 of its prominent leaders, including former Ministers and legislators, tender resignation one after another. Most of them joined either Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference (PC) or Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party (AP). They didn’t want to be seen under BJP’s canopy. Congress, for obvious reasons, was not their choice. With their proximity to Delhi, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) was not their option.

Smaller defections were witnessed also in other parties

Over the years, there have been indications of unrest and disappointment among a number of these migratory birds who seemed to be desperately looking for a party that would give them promise of a partnership in the future without being seen as Kashmir’s enemies or Delhi’s agents. None of the existing parties carried that potential. Azad’s umbrella, which would have neither BJP’s nor the Congress party’s colours, would definitely shelter them all.

Unlike other mainstream political stalwarts, however, Azad doesn’t hold a committed vote-bank or constituency in Kashmir. Under his campaign, Congress won 20 seats in 2002 and formed the government in partnership with the PDP. Azad functioned as Chief Minister for less than three years. He contested his long political career’s second Assembly election from Bhaderwah and won it with a spectacular margin. Still his influence remained limited to some Muslim-dominated pockets of the Pir Panjal and Chenab valleys of the Jammu province.

 

Emerging as the late Sanjay Gandhi’s poster boy, Azad contested and won most of the Parliamentary elections from outside J&K. Then a junior Youth Congress leader, Azad contested his first Assembly election from Jammu’s Inderwal segment in 1977. He got a total of 959 and forfeited his security deposit. Later, in the Lok Sabha elections of 1980, when Azad secured 2,45,091 votes and won with a huge margin of 1,51,378 votes from Maharashtra’s Washim constituency, then J&K’s undisputed political lion and Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah challenged him. Sheikh said he would recognise Azad as a leader if he would get 1,000 votes from any Assembly constituency.

 

Mainly due to his proximity with Sanjay Gandhi– and after his death to Rajiv Gandhi and his family– Azad’s influence grew phenomenally at the national level. However, he suffered two major setbacks when both in 2014 and 2019, under Rahul Gandhi’s command he lost to the BJP’s Jitendra Singh. Notwithstanding his defeats, Azad was elected as a Rajya Sabha member and he continued as Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament’s Upper House for about 8 years. The Parliament witnessed emotional scenes when Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled and appreciated Azad’s long association with and contribution to the federal legislature.

 

Early this year Azad was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award, in the field of public affairs.

Among all his peers in Congress, NC, PDP and other J&K parties, Azad has commanded huge respect for his sterling nationalist credentials. Unlike some veteran in these parties, Azad doesn’t speak militants’ or the separatists’ language. He has never promoted the Pakistani narrative under any political compulsion or expediency which makes him distinct from other claimants of the Chief Minister’s chair in J&K who have been continuously showering praises and sympathies on the separatists despite holding key positions in the government.

Even as Azad is seen as a leader from Jammu on account of his Bhaderwah domicile, he has certain advantages with respect to the Kashmir valley. He too is a Muslim and speaks Kashmiri. He has a permanent residence at Hyderpora, Srinagar. His personal connections with many of the politicians, including the leaders he inducted as Ministers or helped them win elections in the past, are believed to be meticulous.

There’s a strong possibility of some disgruntled leaders partying ways with their parties– Congress, BJP, NC, PDP, PC and AP– and joining Azad’s party whenever it will be floated in the near future. Obviously, Azad’s first target would be those who see no future in the parties like Congress and PDP and who want to shift to a party of the potential of making the government with the BJP’s support without joining the saffron party and without being seen as the BJP’s proxies in Kashmir. In the current circumstances, none other than Azad is holding that magic wand.

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