Azad in an uncharted terrain?

As an astute politician Azad would be knowing that using J&K for political experiments is rife with consequences
"Azad must be patting his ambitions as there have been encouraging noises by his supporters, some of whom have resigned from Congress and announced their unqualified support to him."
"Azad must be patting his ambitions as there have been encouraging noises by his supporters, some of whom have resigned from Congress and announced their unqualified support to him."Mir Imran/ GK File

On August 5, 2019, Ghulam Nabi Azad delivered a very powerful speech in Rajya Sabha as leader of Opposition, connected all the dots of history to drive home the point that why this constitutional provision was inserted, and what purpose did it serve for the people of Jammu and Kashmir and their relationship with the rest of the country.

He also condoled the bifurcation of the state into two union territories, with a sharp reminder to the treasury benches that though abrogation of Article 370 regularly appeared on Jan Sangh/ BJP agenda, but there never was a mention of dividing the state into two, that too, as union territories.

This was outpouring of heart-felt condolence by a Congress leader, witness to much of the post-independence history of the erstwhile state.

Congress role in cementing bonds between J&K and the rest of the country, especially in the years of Jawahar Lal Nehru, is too important to be given a miss; though it faltered on a number of commitments to the nation on Kashmir and Kashmiris as well.

Congress also played havoc with the democratic institutions in the erstwhile state, the consequences of which continue to haunt the populace.

His speech became a reference point for many in Kashmir. They substantiated their arguments in favour of the special status and the statehood, by citing excerpts from the speech. That was a well-documented statement of facts, and reflected many aspects of the history, not known to many in the country.

There is a difference between the history in text books, now Google, and its recall by the eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses know what happened, how and why of the events that shape the place and impact psyche of the people. He had to fulfill this onerous responsibility as all other top leaders of Jammu and Kashmir, including the tallest among them, Farooq Abdullah , were in detention.

They were without access to the communication channels to say what they wanted to say. But now the question is, whether the August 2019 speech of Azad was an end in itself, or he could have done something more as leader of opposition, and that too, since he was in Rajya Sabha because of Jammu and Kashmir. These questions would linger on, until he comes out with answers.

Doubts have been voiced, as was natural for the leaders still in Congress, about his move. CWC member Tariq Hameed Karra has stated that his moves were blessed by Narendra Modi to work out advantage for BJP, which though rich in cadre and narrative is still finding difficult to make inroads into the Muslim-dominated areas in J&K.

Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari, who was the first to shake the political inertia in March 2020 – when other leaders were under detention, house arrest or behind bars– to take up the demand of the restoration of statehood and pressed for early hearing and verdict on Article 370 from the Supreme Court, has accused Azad of having failed to do what he could have done as leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha.

In fact, he has blamed him more than Modi for what happened to J&K on August 5, 2019. Azad may not feel obliged to clear all these doubts, but the doubts have creeped in.

Some are saying it, others are mulling on these silently. As a leader, Azad would do good to himself and his image, to set the record straight in a straightforward manner. That is the expectation.

That could be the starting point for him to launch a political party with national contours from this place. This also is a gamble that Azad is playing in the belief that he has all the right cards in his hands, and the existing players had left the gaps which place a responsibility on him to fill and lead the place as per its aspirations.

Azad must be patting his ambitions as there have been encouraging noises by his supporters, some of whom have resigned from Congress and announced their unqualified support to him.

There are many. Some have vindicated their undying loyalty toward him, and others are looking at their political prospects. Azad loyalists, as they are known, would have found it difficult to continue in the party. This is both their love and compulsion for being on the side of Azad.

Azad’s bonhomie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is also sending messages to the political leaders and others in J&K – it could be seen as vindication of his rapport with all the leaders of all the parties, national or regional. After all, Modi is PM of the country, he enjoys unique position and a narrator for the nation. Azad, an admirer of PM, his humble origins, and the way he rose to the highest office in the country, will have to spell out, where he stands today.

His famed five-page letter is an indictment of Congress of Gandhis – Azad style. That increases his responsibility to come clear on many issues, both with respect to the country, and new status of Jammu and Kashmir, where August 5 , 2019 inspires mixed emotions. There is a disturbing rise in the communal, regional and sub regional polarisation.

Azad must have taken all these factors into account, as he, it appears is seeking to use J&K as springboard for national politics. His attempts to place J&K in the national consciousness is good, but first he will have to be clear in his answers to the growing differences and distances between the regions and the communities.

Added to this is the question in many minds in J&K about the identity and dignity of the place and the people. Some see their future secure in the BJP’s hands, others don’t. There are reasons on both sides of the fence.

Today’s Kashmir is altogether different from the days when Azad used to study in S P College, Srinagar, or the days when he was appointed as PCC chief ahead of the 2002 Assembly polls, or even when he became chief minister in November 2005.

It is Kashmir which refuses to get studied. There are eye-pleasing optics that enrich the economy, there is an urge for development, but what it lacks is the ownership of all this. There is a need to give ownership to its people.

They know that their place is important and is getting lot of attention in the national discourse, and some of the elements of the narration bear a close resemblance to the reality - all the destructive disruptions in their normal life - shutdowns and strikes appear to be thing of the past. There is a new trajectory, which has opened up the world view of their place that many had been aspiring to in the past.

This is not a picture perfect, and it cannot be unless the people feel that they are free to do what is their right as citizens of the country - unhindered movement and expression. These are the areas of extreme concern.

Azad, like his party of 50 years, needs to do an introspection about what he had done in the past, and come out with something that connects him with the place and the people - the August 5, 2019 speech is going to be his anthem, or there are modifications.

Prime Minister Modi, he himself had claimed, had shown the new path that a tea seller could rise to the highest post in the country – is his inspiration or he would follow the Nehruvian ideology or does he see the convergence between the first Prime Minister of the country, who spoke of India’s tryst with destiny on August 15, 1947, and Modi who has redefined the political culture since 2014.

As an astute politician, which Azad is, would be knowing that using Jammu and Kashmir as a laboratory for political experiments is rife with wider consequences than anticipated at the time of entering or re-entering the place. Though a familiar face in J&K, Azad knows that Kashmir is always an uncharted terrain, no matter how much familiarity one may claim or have with the place.

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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