Azad, new pivot of JK politics

How would Azad deal with his friend and fellow-traveler till the other day, the National Conference supremo, Dr Farooq Abdullah?
"Mr Azad has already expressed his desire to float a &K-centric political party which is understandable as he would like to consolidate his native base to create a platform."
"Mr Azad has already expressed his desire to float a &K-centric political party which is understandable as he would like to consolidate his native base to create a platform."Special arrangement

"I always thought Modi is a crude person, as he does not have a wife and a family. But he showed humanity………”

“Congress unpadon ki jammat hai (Congress is a party of illiterates)…….”

Veteran Congress leader of yesterday, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad has severed his five decades old relations, though on a sore note, with the party. Naturally, it created euphoria both in the media and the political circles; after all he was once upon a pillar of the over a century old party. The euphoria might last few days or weeks but the real test for him begins now in regard to the septuagenarian’s future, as route to his national party ambition passes through Jammu and Kashmir.

The two statements made by Mr Azad after he quit Congress, as mentioned above, make an interesting reading. It reflects his predicament on one side, and showcases the index of how he wished to move forward. The two statements, though contextual, if read in conjunction give an impression that Mr Azad is thinking in line with Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi’s oft-repeated statement of “Congress-mukt” Bharat.

Mr Azad’s fresh foray into his home territory of Jammu and Kashmir to launch the second innings of his political career has to be keenly observed keeping this backdrop in mind. This background can become both a liability as well as an asset depending on how he and his supporters carry forward the arguments.

Praising Mr Modi could become a liability in the only Muslim majority erstwhile state of India, given the fact that he is heavily banking on the Muslim dominated assembly constituencies in the Jammu region which has a mixed population, and pockets in Kashmir where he commands influence, to give him a head-start in the assembly elections. It can become an asset if his anti-Congress tirade helps his yet to be named political party to fill the vacuum created by exodus from the Congress’s Union Territory unit and in turn checkmate critics who are targeting him over his friendly overtures towards Mr Modi.

Although it is too early to predict as to which way the wind would blow for him, but given the complexity and confusion prevailing on the political firmament of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Azad certainly is in an unenviable position. He could find himself in a unique position of “There Is No Alternative’ (TINA)” variety from the point of view of grabbing the opposition space to stand up to the BJP particularly in Jammu region.

He has the standing and potential to become a rallying point for all those forces, following decimation of Congress which is a near certainty, challenging the BJP and bidding for power in the UT. A strong imponderable for Mr Azad would be on how to deal with his friend and fellow-traveler till the other day, the National Conference supremo, Dr Farooq Abdullah.

Clearly, Mr Azad’s advent as a new rallying point could worry Dr Abdullah whose National Conference was otherwise hoping to do well in the elections as and when held- mostly in Kashmir regions with some pockets in Jammu division as well. There was also talk of a Congress-National Conference pact being worked out by the two leaders.

As of today, even if Mr Azad wishes to have an understanding with Dr Abdullah, in that event they will be a formidable force to challenge the BJP, the latter would find himself in a bind as at national level he is part of the Congress-led opposition unity factor and may find it difficult to share space with Mr Azad in areas where both command influence. That, if at all happens, will be at the cost of already established National Conference.

Mr Azad has already expressed his desire to float a &K-centric political party which is understandable as he would like to consolidate his native base to create a platform. It will not be out of place to say that by intending to do so he is on a mission to test waters as he would be on his first independent political-foray in 50 years of his political life, out of the shadow of the Gandhi family.

The significance of being Azad - his tall stature, unblemished Chief Ministerial innings and acceptability in Jammu as well as Kashmir, the two diverse regions of the UT, put him at an advantageous position. It is more so after all the New Delhi propelled political experiments either to create new political alternatives such as the Apni Party with businessman turned politician and former Minister belonging to the Muftis’ Peoples Democratic Party, Mr Altaf Bukhari as its head, or courting Mr Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference, have failed.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had started with a bang few months back particularly after its victory in adjoining Punjab. It managed to create a Punjab like buzz of “change”, getting a traction among people and attracting new entrants. But the euphoria fizzled sooner than expected. The fact that a dozen leaders of the AAP resigned from the party to back Mr Azad immediately after he resigned from Congress, is an indicator as to which direction the wind can blow.

Although there is a buzz that the BJP strategists have no problem, as a last resort, to see “a friendly” Mr Azad becoming chief minister, as the party despite all efforts is finding it hard to have a formidable trans-Jammu and Kashmir presence. It can help them contain the influence of Dr Abdullah, and then who knows in the division of votes between Azad’s outfit and National Conference in areas with Muslim majority, the BJP stood benefitted, directly or indirectly.

If the Centre sees in Mr Azad a prospective Chief Minister, it will happen only at the cost of a big shift in BJP’s policy, post abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, to form a majority government on its own with a Hindu chief minister from Jammu. Will Mr Modi, given his friendly posturing towards Mr Azad, be ready for such a scale down that will amount to a big policy shift? This question becomes important as Mr Azad seems to be in no mood to confront the Centre and in true Modi-mould will focus on decimating the Congress in J&K, the beginning of which has already been made.

The Centre’s (read BJP) tacit support to Mr Azad could act as a double-edged weapon if he decides to carry forward even in the election campaign the pro-Modi sentiments that has a great potential to be misconstrued as he acting as someone’s proxy. If he decides to desist from that he can become the rallying point of all anti-BJP sentiments that is prevailing in both Jammu and Kashmir regions, but on different issues and with different dimensions.

How Mr Azad conducts himself is very significant, but equally significant would be to watch the next move of Dr Abdullah and how Congress faces the challenge of its extermination and rise to the occasion.

The moot point is even after seven decades of experimentation, Jammu and Kashmir is headed for another political experiment. The focus this time would clearly be on Mr Azad as the coming Assembly elections will be a make or mar exercise in the twilight of his political career.

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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