All eyes on Azad

The new mystery factor in J&K
Democratic Azad Party chief, Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Democratic Azad Party chief, Ghulam Nabi Azad.File/ ANI

Will the first ever election to the newly carved Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory assembly be held anytime soon?

There are no easy answers coming to this question even two and half years after Jammu and Kashmir state was demoted to be a UT with assembly, with the dilution of Article 370 of the Constitution granting special status to the then state.

History beckons that it has never been easy to decipher any ruling dispensation’s mind on what the next move on Jammu and Kashmir is going to be, and more importantly when.

The current scenario with respect to holding of assembly elections is an extension of this unfortunate precedent followed by the governments in Delhi, of all hues.

Making the matter more complicated has been the equally mysterious attitude of the rulers and political leaders from time to time. Ranging from the erstwhile Maharaja Mr Hari Singh to the then Prime Minister Mr Sheikh Abdullah, to the current Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad. They differed in ideologies and perceptions but had the commonality of the mystery factor.

The question arises why this mystery when there was and is dire need for a clear cut administrative, diplomatic and political approach on the issue. This question has arisen once again in the context of the emergence of Mr Azad, the once veteran Congress leader, in a new ‘avtar’ as head of the yet-to-be registered UT-level political party.

The party initially named as Democratic Azad Party (DAP) has already undergone a change and now named Progressive Azad Party following objections by the Election Commission of India (ECI) about DAP. The dust is still to settle on the naming issue as the matter, according to the party insiders is pending with the ECI. So, the mystery about the final product?

On top of that the mystery has been further deepened with Mr Azad frequently changing his stance on issues directly related to the UT in the backdrop of the dilution of Article 370 and accompanying constitutional changes. In the midst of a broadside launched by his detractors alleging his proximity to the ruling BJP, he seems to be at last taking some position over these issues but only to dither the next day.

Initially, Mr Azad had taken a firm stand on restoration of special status. He had repeatedly said that he stood only for return to statehood and granting land and employment rights to the UT people. Perhaps, after multiple rounds of the UT and feeling pulse of the people, he seems to have a relook on this stand. In a televised interview, he criticised the BJP government’s decision of removing special status to Jammu and Kashmir, saying that the decision has not brought any positive change in the lives of people which has surprised the political observers. “There is no change at all, rather the situation has worsened after abrogation of Article 370 in J&K. There is no control on increasing unemployment, price hike, and government deficit. People are dejected and youth are frustrated. No major development works are observed. All the claims have fallen flat, and the condition has further deteriorated here,” he remarked.

During his recent tour of Kashmir and Chenab valley, part of Jammu region, he for the first time, ever since forming the new party, showed some inkling and intent to fight for return of the special status. This change could be felt in the manner in which the DAP hailed the Supreme Court decision to have an early hearing on the pleas challenging partial abrogation of Article 370 by the Centre in August 2019, taking away the special status, pending before the Apex Court for nearly two years now. “We believe that the Supreme Court would give justice to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and safeguard their interests,” Mr Azad observed.

Although the reaction in this connection came from a DAP spokesperson, Mr Azad posted this statement on his Facebook page with his observation, in a highlighted form. The mystery is yet to be fully cleared by the fledgling new outfit about its stand on this issue.

After completion of his UT-wide tour and the interesting televised interview, Mr Azad through series of tweets held out promises on what he described “to bring a real change” if voted to power. Incidentally, he, ostensibly, took another turn and maintained silence on Article 370 while talking of other goals.

Yet another statement by Mr Azad in the same interview, which could have far-reaching political repercussions and trigger fresh controversy about his political alliances, stirred a controversy. He said that the then Congress-led UPA government at the Centre took no action on a report sent by him as the J&K chief minister, about links of some Kashmiri political leaders with terror groups. Stating that some mainline political leaders were playing double game which he had brought to the notice of the Centre, he said that the then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and home minister Mr Shivraj Patil did not take any action on his report.

“Since I do not believe in hearsay, I tried to gather all the concrete proofs and then sent a detailed report to the then prime minister and the then home minister of India. But unfortunately, there was no action,” he further said. However, he denied allegations that the Manmohan Singh government was soft towards terrorists in the Valley adding “some mainstream Kashmiri leaders were acting as “double cross”.

All this after his yet another surprising statement that only Congress could defeat BJP in the Gujarat and other Assembly elections. And that he was not against the party’s policy of secularism. Thereby he further mystified on what he and his party stand for under the changed circumstances in the UT.

“Such leaders had links with the terror outfits. At the same time, they were befooling New Delhi by projecting themselves as great nationalists and mainstream leaders. I don’t know when such people will meet their fate,” Mr Azad said.

Who are these political leaders? Are they still alive and active? He has refused to elaborate. It further deepened the mystery and let the needle of suspicion to be in a freewheeling mode.

Mr Azad, even when he was chief minister, had maintained a balanced approach and mostly refrained from stepping on the Indo-Pak dialogue turf as a condition to establish peace in Jammu and Kashmir, has for once taken a clear stand on this issue. “India’s relations with Pakistan can’t improve till the Army in Pakistan ‘rules the roost’. The prime minister or president in Pakistan has to follow the dictates of the Pakistani Army. This is an open truth. In fact, the Pakistani Army is a big obstacle in improving relations between Pakistan and India,” he added.

Amusingly, he seemed in agreement with Home Minister Mr Amit Shah and supported the latter’s recent remarks that India will talk with its own youth and own people and not Pakistan over Kashmir issue. “Why should we talk to outsiders,” was his counter to the question posed during the interview.

Mr Azad has taken a stand diametrically opposite to what UPA Government, of which he was a part, and then as chief minister, stood for. Thereby further complicating the mystery as to on which side of the fence does he stand.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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