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India

Can Ghulam Nabi Azad Make An Impact in J&K Politics?

Azad’s entry comes at a time when the established parties struggle with a post-delimitation J&K. More so, the bigger struggle for Azad may be the faces that he contests the elections with.

Ghulam Nabi Azad
Former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. (Image: Twitter/ @rashtrapatibhvn)

Jammu: As Ghulam Nabi Azad forms the new Democratic Azad Party, the prospectus of its win remains doubtful. The assembly of Jammu and Kashmir has been in abeyance for over three years and a massive political realignment in the assembly , as well as parliamentary constituencies, has taken place.

What used to be the bastions of mainstream Kashmir-centric political parties have witnessed a shift in the boundaries setting the stage for new candidates and newer target voters for these parties.

Azad’s entry comes at a time when the established parties struggle with a post-delimitation J&K. More so, the bigger struggle for Azad may be the faces that he contests the elections with.

One of the only major political figures that seem to have joined Azad is the Gujjar leader Taj Mohiuddin. Most of the other leaders have been either the defeated MLAs or the turncoat workers.

Only Mohiuddin and GM Saroori from the Jammu division who joined the Azad camp have been strong candidates for Congress from Uri and Inderwal areas.

Both Kashmir and Jammu have been strongholds of Kashmir-centric parties and the BJP respectively. While no widely accepted leader either from Kashmir or Jammu who has served as the face of any of the Kashmir-centric political parties has joined Azad, he himself “escaped from contesting last Lok Sabha elections”, as a senior Congress leader said adding he was Ghulam Nabi Bhat, “it was Congress that made him Ghulam Nabi Azad”.

A Scared Politician.

“His own voter base in other parts has been so erosive and he was so scared that he did not even contest the last Lok Sabha elections,” a political rival of him said wishing anonymity.

In 2014, he contested the Lok Sabha elections from the Udhampur seat however was badly defeated by the BJP’s senior leader Dr. Jitendra Singh who also serves in the prime minister’s office.

In 2019, Azad did not even contest. Congress had then fielded Vikramaditya Singh, the son of Jammu and Kashmir’s last prince Karan Singh but he too was defeated by Jitendra Singh. Well, there’s barely any possibility of him open contesting bag from Jammu Rajouri and the Bhaderwah belt near main his focus.

However, there as well, he has many forces to counter and these are not just JKNC and JKPDP but Aam Aadmi Party and BJP. Also, the experts say DAP’s rise might be capitalized on by BJP to a great extent as it may lead to a bifurcation of the Muslim vote share in the Rajouri, Bhaderwah, Doda region.

Interestingly, moving on with a secular ideology, AAP is also making a strong entry into Chenab valley. Not just in the Jammu district, on March 28, hundreds of the people from the Doda district of the Chenab Valley were seen donning the signature AAP caps and rallying on the road, sloganeering in favor of a “change”.

Who are in the Azad camp?

One of the key figures in Azad’s new outreach to people has been Salman Nizami. Nizami earlier claimed that he was a part of the Congress, but once even the Congress party said that he never belonged to them.

Some of the Azad rivals Jammu and Kashmir have said open while hinting at Nizami that “For Azad, most important people are those who cannot even win a sarpanch election”.

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Azad himself has been an MLA from Chenab Valley’s Bhaderwah area and parties like NC, Congress and PDP have lately been devoid of any major support from the region.

The 3 key areas of the Chenab valley include Doda, Kishtwar, and Reasi, however, no major leader from there joined him. These all three constituencies have seen leaders from BJP winning the 2014 assembly elections. Even Azad’s home constituency Bhaderwah saw a BJP candidate winning the last election in 2014.

There are some winning MLA with Azad which mainly include Mohammadi Amin Bhat, Gulam Mohamed Saroori, Abdul Rashid Dar. But only Saroori and Mohiuddin have been constant winners.

Abdul Rashid Dar was a Congress MLA from Sopore however it was the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference that had won the Sopore seat before him by a good margin.

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Similarly, Mohammad Amin Bhat was an MLA from Devsar constituency of Kulgam district but he had never won an election before this.

In fact, Congress itself never won an election from Devsar before 2014. Apart from them another sitting MLA Chaudhary Akram from Surankote constituency also joined Azad but he too has won just one election in 2014.

The area that he belongs to has been a National Conference bastion with Mushtaq Ahmed Shah of NC winning two elections before Akram there.

Another key figure to have joined is Tarachand who also was the deputy chief minister during Azad’s tenure as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. While Tara Chand hasn’t won the assembly election in 2014, he had 2 wins to his credit from the Chhamb constituency.

However, experts have been hinting that the winning prospectus of many of these sitting MLA who joined Azad remains a challenge as they won the elections on the pretext of the party they belonged to, that is Congress.

As a senior Congress worker said, “ Be it, Abdul Rashid Dar or Mohammad Amin Bhat, they won through the support of long existing Congress workers. The same holds true for people like Tara Chand and Chaudhary Akram”.

He added that Gulzar Ahmed Wani, another sitting MLA who joined Azad won an election on a Congress ticket. He has never witnessed any win before. Now that they don’t even belong to Congress, anyone may hardly vote for them.