August 26, 2022: Veteran Congress leader Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad resigned and severed his over five-decade relations with the party. The five-page resignation letter opened by saying; The situation in the party had reached a 'point of no return'. The party has lost both the will and the ability under tutelage of the coterie that runs the AICC to fight for what is right for India.
This was followed by an all out no-holds-barred attack on the party under the cover of its former president, Mr Rahul Gandhi. “Handpicked lieutenants of the AICC have been coerced to sign on lists prepared by the coterie that runs the AICC sitting in 24 Akbar Road,” the former Gandhi family loyalist said blaming Mr Gandhi for all the ills afflicting the party.
Ever since, Mr Azad has, after initial dithering and under pressure from a similar coterie in his home state Jammu and Kashmir, floated a new regional party “Democratic Azad Party”. It is another matter that it is still to be registered with the Election Commission of India.
Mr Azad’s resignation from the Congress was nothing short of a bombshell. It was much unexpected, given his unflinching loyalty to the Gandhi family since the time of former Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi. It took everyone by surprise and left even some of his close supporters awe-struck. And naturally too.
November 7, 2022: Three months down the line and Mr Azad, normally a shrewd and thorough bred tactician in the art of politics but not given to political adventurism, has quietly dropped another bombshell. It has left both his supporters and opponents zapped and awe-struck once again though the impact and meaning of this bombshell is still to be fathomed.
Measure his resignation statement with his latest observation made during his mass-contact tour to his native district in Jammu and Kashmir. Hold your breath for a second!
“Only Congress could challenge Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections, while Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is "merely a party of UT Delhi". I am not against the policy of secularism of Congress. But my opposition and subsequent parting of ways was on the issue of its weak organisational system. I would still want Congress to perform well in Gujarat and HP Assembly polls. AAP isn't capable to do so."
Political leaders have the rare quality of blowing hot and cold in the same breath. Though Mr Azad has shunned this rare quality, none should be surprised by the change in Mr Azad’s thinking within three months. Nevertheless, it has given rise to many questions with a tagline, “Does it reflect a change of heart on his part? Does it indicate his intent at ’Ghar Vapsi’?”
He did not leave it at that, and went on; “The Congress takes along everybody, Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs... AAP can't do anything in these poll-going states, they have failed in Punjab and the people of Punjab will not vote for them again.”
Coming in the midst of political parties making hectic preparations for the yet to be announced Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory (UT) assembly elections, and Mr Azad himself on a whirlwind tour of hilly areas to mobilise public support, in came this surprise statement. His sudden change of heart cannot be without a deep political meaning. It is surely based on his both pre, and post-poll calculations and at the same time an attempt to ward-off criticism that he was soft towards the BJP and the ruling dispensation but at the same time keeping post-poll options open.
But for initial scathing criticism of Congress, up till now he has avoided mentioning any political party in his interviews or public addresses. He had also avoided referring to the issue of restoration of Article 370 or special status to the area under this Constitutional provision that created confusion even among his supporters.
The fact that Mr Azad’s core base lies, both in Jammu and Kashmir regions, in the Muslim dominated areas, still he enjoys considerable goodwill among other sections of the society as well due to his clean-secular image and good track record as chief minister. The fact that Dr Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference is also eyeing this core (read Muslims) and has areas of influence in these areas, and that the BJP, in its own way, trying to either influence or disturb this core, there is a dire need for Mr Azad to protect his support base over which he wishes to build an edifice of his new political innings.
His initial silence over the issue of Article 370, though he has announced a three-point charter viz; Restoration of statehood, protection of land rights and job rights of the domiciles or original inhabitants, that draws strength from the same source, had created a confusion. His silence on restoration of Article 370 was misconstrued as towing the BJP line on this issue and at the same time helping further the party’s electoral chances in the otherwise Muslim majority UT through causing division.
Interestingly, the issue of restoration of special status and protection of land and job rights are being echoed, of late, in the entire UT, cutting across two regions-Jammu and Kashmir, religion and caste. And the fact that majority in Mr Azad’s core support base have been the Congress supporters over the decades and by that logic that of Mr Azad as he had been the unchallenged leader of the party after the ouster of veterans such as late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, he could not have ignored the Congress factor altogether. His soft-corner towards Congress could be seen as a move to consolidate his core base and at the same time reflecting on a post-poll scenario.
Will he re-join Congress or not? It is a rather ticklish question at least presently. Though there are reports that some sympathisers are working in this direction but it is difficult to hazard a guess. Even if he does not join Congress, Mr Azad through his initially toned-down criticism of the party and now showering wholesome praise, seems also to be guided by the chances of a futuristic broader alliance among the secular forces comprising his Democratic Azad Party, Congress, National Conference and some smaller groups.
At the same time, given his clean image and cordial relations with Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi, he could fathom his chances of becoming leader of an alternative alliance with BJP’s participation or support. This could only be a post-poll proposition as such a thinking at this juncture could rupture his main support base.
Mr Azad suddenly turning soft towards Congress has further ignited the political scene in the UT. A Congress victory in the neighbouring Himachal Pradesh will not only come as a vindication of his new found love for Congress but facilitate his further moves in this direction.
Certainly, interesting times are ahead both for Mr Azad and Congress and more so Jammu and Kashmir.
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.