Is Azad going to do an Amarinder in Jammu and Kashmir?

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Azad has acceptability across J&K, can transform the political dynamics of the region

Is Azad going to do an Amarinder in Jammu and Kashmir?

Fact of the matter is – this jumla comparing Amarinder and Azad fits only to a certain point.

Amarinder, a die-hard Congress loyalist, quit the party recently after his relations with the party high command and other loyalists soured. Ghulam Nabi Azad is currently feeling the same pinch. His relations with the party high command are not what they used to be. To the credit of both Amarinder and Azad, it must be said that both of them did not indulge in any objectionable conduct or go against party ethics. For the Congress high command, the initial provocation was that Azad and 22 other Congress called for reforms in the party, which had been struggling for the last many years with high-profile exits and crises in the state units.

Azad’s stature as a Congressman is much bigger than that of Capt Amarinder Singh. This is despite the fact that Amarinder has twice been the chief minister of Punjab. He is a Congress heavyweight and an MLA for many terms. But Amarinder does not carry the same clout in the Congress or even nationwide as Ghulam Nabi Azad. Amarinder’s exit from the Congress caused a ripple across Punjab. On the other hand, if Ghulam Nabi Azad decides to quit the Congress, form his own party and contest the elections in J&K, this shall as good as decimate the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir.

Another important point of comparison. Many political analysts are not sure how Capt Amarinder Singh shall fare electorally with his independent party in the Punjab elections, which are likely to be held in February or March 2022. If Azad fights the elections in Jammu and Kashmir under his independent banner, it shall mean a tectonic shift in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. Azad’s move shall transform the electoral dynamics of the region.

Politics In J&K Has Been Leader Centric, Not Party Centric

Congress has never been a magnetic force in the elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Politics in the erstwhile state has been leader-centric. It was the personal clout of the Congress leaders nationally which made Kashmiris vote for them. The Congress was able to make gains in Jammu and Kashmir on account of the personal charisma of the party leaders.

The other factor is the complex preference of the Kashmir voter while casting his vote. The Kashmir voter may not be in love with New Delhi, but he definitely votes for the candidate who is loved by New Delhi, or the one who is in power in New Delhi. For many decades, the party in power in New Delhi was the Congress. This made the choice of the Kashmir voter easy during the Parliamentary elections. Hence the Congress was able to steer through in Jammu and Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir is not a leader of stature who can take people along. The majority of the Congress rank and file in Jammu and Kashmir has no choice but to put their weight behind Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Popular Congress Leaders in J&K Side With Azad

Azad is a shrewd politician who makes careful and calculated moves. Over the last one year, since the time he retired from the Rajya Sabha, there has been much talk over what can be his next move. But by and large, Azad has remained silent, and carefully assessed the ground and the political environment.

Azad has denied it, but it is widely believed that the Congress leaders of J&K close to him have resigned at his behest. This proves that he enjoys higher clout over cadres than any other Congress leader of Jammu and Kashmir. The Congress leaders in Kashmir who have some chances to win in the elections owe allegiance to Azad. In the Kashmir division, there are five Assembly segments where Congressmen enjoy clout among the electorate. From among these five Assembly segments, the political leaders of three Assembly segments shall move into the Azad fold if push comes to shove.

These are the Congress leaders who shall choose Azad over Ghulam Ahmad Mir.

Peerzada Mohd Sayeed. Former PCC president. Represented the Kokernag Assembly segment many times till 2014

Mohd Ameen Bhat. Represented Devsar Assembly segment in Kulgam district

Abdul Rashid Dar. Who won the 2008 elections from Sopore constituency

 

The three are Azad loyalists. They shall opt to go with him if they are forced to make a choice.

Leaving out these Congress leaders, only two are left in the Congress fold in Kashmir. One is J&K Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir, and the second is former minister Taj Mohiuddin.

Till recently, Taj Mohiuddin was close to Congress leader Saifuddin Soz. Mohiuddin too does not enjoy a good equation with GM Mir. The rest of the

Congress leaders in Kashmir valley are paper tigers. They issue statements against Ghulam Nabi Azad sometimes, but their winnability is zero.

Only Raman Bhalla in Jammu Sides With GA Mir 

The only popular Congress leader who is seen siding with PCC president Ghulam Ahmad Mir is Raman Bhalla, who represented the Gandhi Nagar segment in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. If Azad quits the Congress, nothing shall remain of the grand old party in Jammu and Kashmir except some wannabe leaders who have no hold at ground level.

Congress Leader Saifuddin Soz Not A Constituency Man

Saifuddin Soz is a former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president and former union minister, but he was never a Constituency man. Soz reached the Lok Sabha on an NC seat. In 1999, the 13-month old Vajpayee government was voted out in the Lok Sabha by a margin of one vote. Then National Conference member Saifuddin Soz went against the whip of his party and voted against the motion. His cross-voting sealed the fate of the BJP government and it lost the confidence motion by one vote. Since his single vote led to the fall of the BJP government in 1999, Soz’s clout in went up in the Congress circles. The Congress rewarded Soz by giving him a Rajya Sabha seat and making him a Union Minister for Water Resources. Soz has been a long-time Member of Parliament, but he does not enjoy any local clout or hold over the Congress cadre.

The Political Vacuum In Jammu And Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir currently has a political vacuum. No party or leader has been able to create any political hulchul after the abrogation of Article 370. Undeniably, Altaf Bukhari should he given credit for going against the wind after the abrogation of Article 370. Equally, Sajad Lone must be given credit for his bold moves. But the political storm which can create a hulchul has not happened. National Conference does not seem capable of creating this hulchul. The electorate seems to be disillusioned and disenchanted with NC. If Azad provides an alternative, it shall majorly impact the dynamics of politics in Jammu and Kashmir.

NC DOES NOT ENJOY SAME STATURE ANYMORE

 National Conference does not enjoy the same stature in Jammu that it had earlier when political heavyweight Devender Rana was in the party. Rana was extremely close to both Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. The fact that Rana has moved on is indicative of the loosening hold of National Conference over the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. Rana left evidently because he calculated that in the given circumstances, he cannot sail in the NC boat.

Farooq Abdullah’s charisma and appeal have weakened post the abrogation of Article 370. After the abrogation, the electorate seems to be disillusioned and disenchanted by National Conference and also PDP.

Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Stature As Political Leader
The immense goodwill enjoyed by Ghulam Nabi Azad has worked in his favour, making him popular among the Congress rank and file. Equally, Azad is the only political leader who enjoys popularity and acceptability in all regions of Jammu and Kashmir. Azad’s dedication and sincerity to the party has been beyond question. He was a popular chief minister who worked hard and was able to bring about positive changes at grassroots. Azad could connect with the people emotionally too, and people would connect with him. Capt Amarinder was regarded as a Congress heavyweight, but he offered his services to the party only within Panjab. He has not worked ouside Punjab as a Congress man. On the other hand, Azad has worked hard for the party throughout the country. He was considered one of the most successful trouble-shooters for the Congress. In addition, he has always had a cordial relationship with the opposition, sans any acrimony. Azad has been the Incharge and the General Secretary of the Congress for many states. He has provided to be very capable and worked wonders for the Congress.

Over the last one year, it has been felt that BJP’s prospects in Jammu are not as bright as they were earlier. In such a scenario, the Congress would be expected to make gains. But Congress without Azad shall not be able to draw voters in Jammu. If the Congress denigrates Ghulam Nabi Azad, it shall be a serious self-goal by the party. Compared to Azad, J&K Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir is small fry. Azad towers over Ghulam Ahmad Mir in stature. Nobody else from the state Congress can match Azad’s stature. The Congress may be able to draw in some votes in Jammu and Udhampur. Azad belongs to the Jammu region and enjoys good popularity across board. In addition, he is also acceptable to those in Kashmir who believe in and participate in electoral democracy. This gives Azad an edge over all other political leaders of Kashmir. With Azad, the Congress appeal spreads to the Chenab region, the Pir Panjal region, Kathua and Samba. People may not vote for the Congress. But if Azad is the chief ministerial candidate for the Congress, he can swing votes in his favour. The operative part here is – if Azad is the chief ministerial candidate for the Congress. Over the last one year, there have been indications that he is not comfortable with the Gandhi family, and vice versa. If Azad quits the Congress and forms his own party for contesting in Jammu and Kashmir, the dynamics of electoral politics in the region will change.

The signs are there.

If Azad floats a new party, who could be his allies in Kashmir?

With his new party, Amarinder will have only limited influence in Punjab. If Azad quits the Congress and contests under his own banner, he will change the entire dynamics of politics in Jammu and Kashmir.

If Azad floats a new party, who could be his allies in Kashmir?

Certainly not National Conference. Firstly, with his personal stature Azad will dwarf National Conference and Dr Farooq Abdullah. Farooq, the old political warhorse, shall not settle for this.  Second, post abrogation Kashmir in a different situation. If at all Azad floats a new party, NC cannot be a viable ally for him. Meanwhile, it shall go to the benefit of Sajad Lone and Altaf Bukhari to be potential allies for Ghulam Nabi Azad. It can be a win-win for them to join Azad. The old political horses of Jammu and Kashmir hail from the National Conference or PDP. The electorate is disenchanted with both parties. Azad may emerge as the best bet. If Sajad and Altaf ally with Azad, it may strengthen their political clout.

THE STORY TILL NOW

Azad, the senior-most politician from Jammu and Kashmir in the Congress, has seen a gradual souring of relations with the party high command. On November 19, Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi dropped Azad from the panel of the newly-constituted disciplinary committee of the party. Azad has been a member of the Congress disciplinary committee for a long time. Why did Congress drop him from the panel? No reason given. But joining the dots is easy here. Azad is among the G-23 group of the Congress that advocated for sweeping changes in the party structure a year ago.

There is also a recent development that may be have been seen as the trigger for the decision by the Congress high command. A day before Azad was dropped from the Congress disciplinary committee, about 20 Congress leaders from Jammu and Kashmir including four former ministers and three ex-legislators resigned from their party positions. All these Congress leaders are considered close to Azad. They include former ministers GM Saroori, Vikar Rasool and Dr Manohar Lal Sharma; former MLAs Jugal Kishore Sharma, Ghulam Nabi Monga, Naresh Gupta, Mohammad Amin Bhat, Subash Gupta; State Congress vice-president Anwar Bhat, and member of Kulgam District Development Council Anyatullah Rather.

Some analysts believe that Sonia Gandhi does not want to give space to leaders with strong opinion in any important bodies of the Congress – especially those who advocate organizational reforms in the party. Azad’s cozy relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi may play a role in the recent political developments around him. In February this year, some politicians and political analysts were hinting that Azad may be groomed as the saffron face in Jammu and Kashmir. Azad had vociferously denied this and had said, “I will join the BJP when we have black snow in Kashmir. Why BJP — that’s the day I’ll join any other party.”

Much water has flown down the Jhelum since Azad said that. His cryptic comments on the resignations of the Congress leaders give strength to these speculations. When questioned by the media, Azad denied that he had knowledge of resignations of some state Congress leaders who are close to him. When asked whether he would be the Congress chief ministerial candidate in the next assembly elections keeping in view the demand raised at the recent public rally in Kathua district, Azad said, “I will do what the people of Jammu and Kashmir want me to do for the betterment of this state.” The Congress leaders who shared stage with Azad at the rally in Kathua and resigned from their posts in the Congress said only Azad is acceptable to them as the party’s face in Jammu and Kashmir as well as the chief ministerial candidate, not state Congress chief Gulam Ahmed Mir. Going by the way the Congress is clipping Azad, he may do the Amarinder in Jammu and Kashmir. When the shift happens is a question of time.

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