Col J P Singh
Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Congress Veteran from Sanjay Gandhi days, retired from Rajya Sabha in February 2021 after a good innings. Indira Gandhi had picked him up from Jammu to groom him for a bigger regional and national role. Being out of job for such politician is boring.
Mughals discovered Kashmir, Nehru had discovered Sheikh Abdullah, Indira Gandhi discovered Azad whereas Azad has discovered Jammu. It means a lot for Jammu. His last two Jammu visits are note-worthy. Off and on he is showing extraordinary interest in the transformation of Congress Party and J&K politics not because he is out of job in Delhi but because of his emotional connect with both ie Congress (I) and J&K. Hence Indira Ji’s dream seems to be on track. He has been a national leader for 40 years and CM of J&K for nearly 3 years but currently cold shouldered. He just can’t be easily wished away from national politics.
His recent 4 days visit from 31 July to 3 August shows that he is trying to have a foothold in Jammu before taking a final plunge. Reciprocally the reception, honour, awards, public meetings with various delegations and NGOs from across Jammu region makes his visit exciting and meaningful. Street talks of his acceptance for having given 4 districts to Jammu, a long pending demand, recommended by various commissions, though superfluous, are doing rounds after his visit.
The second noticeable visit to Jammu was in June this year in which Jammu saw majority of dissident ‘G-23’ leaders standing in solidarity with Azad. The occasion was a function of ‘Gandhi Global Family’. But the stage was used by dissident leaders to send out a strong message to Congress High Command (Sonia Gandhi) that Azad Sahib is a force to reckon with. Expressing solidarity with him, ‘G-23’ leaders raised questions with the public over the treatment meted out to their former chief minister. “We were deeply saddened when we came to know that Azad Sahib was being freed from Parliament. We did not want him to retire. I do not know why the party is not utilising his experience in the national politics, stated Kapil Sibal in the public rally. He reiterated that Congress has weakened a lot. Let us accept this. We have to strengthen the party together”. Others also spoke in sync. Former union minister Anand Sharma too expressed displeasure over the way Azad Sahib has been treated by the Congress high command in the recent past. “We have come here to send out a message that we are with Azad. Let people not remain in any kind of confusion. Azad has not retired. He was not working as a Govt official. Azad knows the pulse of every state of the country”, Anand Sharma said. On the other hand, in his address Azad made it clear that he may have retired from Parliament, but not from politics; an important message to the high command. Divide within the Congress party came out in the open in Jammu. It had started when ‘G-23’ leaders wrote a letter to the interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi seeking complete overhaul of the party. The letter had created a massive controversy and triggered an internal battle. What led to ‘G-23’ faction to come out openly against the high command is it’s cold shoulder to Azad and nomination of Mallikarjun Kharge, a Rahul Gandhi loyalist, as leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha instead of Anand Sharma, who was the deputy leader.
After Primer Modi’s tearful farewell speech in the Parliament, Azad is getting liberal and committed support from his party old Turks as well as BJP top leadership. His political statements with regards to Congress restructuring carried in various papers, periodicals and editorials are very inspiring at the time when the Congress is not showing any initiative in improving upon its negative partisan agenda and mechanism of providing effective and meaningful opposition within and outside the Parliament. He is seen pushing for change in dynastic leadership in the party and beckoning people to look beyond dynasty for the future role of the party in the national politics.
I, as a layman, consider Azad Sahib’s Jammu adventure as a visionary move. Jammu is abode of Dogras as Kashmir is abode of Kashmiris. Maharaja Hari Singh and Sheikh Abdullah proved that Dogras and Kashmiris were nationalist. Kashmir has gone astray over the period but Jammu has stood firm on its credentials despite various political turbulences. Hence Jammu matters as much in J&K politics as Kashmir matters in geo-politics.
Political panorama of state politics is slowly and steadily changing post abrogation of Article 370. Today BJP is seen less relevant in Jammu after abrogation of 370 as much as one time most popular separatist leaders are irrelevant in the valley. On the face of it, the shift in the valley is towards NC because Kashmiris find strong regional leadership in the party. Mrs. Indira Gandhi brought Sheikh Sahib back from oblivion to replace her own Congress govt because he was a popular regional leader. His son and grandson continue to hold the mantle. PDP is facing continuous attrition, fatigue and migration of rank and file. BJP is fighting for survival and may even end up to be christened as museum pieces of J&K polity because it does not have a tall local leader like Pt Prem Nath Dogra or Th. Baldev Singh in the state and Atalji and Advani in Delhi. Congress in J&K was mired in factional fight like Delhi. It has narrowed down after Azad’s visit . NPP is also in a state of factional fight. Hence Jammu is an opportunity for Azad. Ironically for Delhi, G A Mir is the J&K future. Azad is a tall Congress leader. He has well wishers in all the states and UTs. The day Delhi realises his standing and potential the factional fight will be over. If Congress fights next J&K election under Azad, it will remarkably increase its tally in Jammu region, thanks BJP.
J&K history is no body’s keep. Jammu dominated Kashmir in power politics till independence. Thereafter Jammu played second fiddle to Kashmir. Time for a paradigm political shift has come. Now it is going to be Jammu again calling the shots in all/any coalition(s). Azad will be a catalyst of this paradigm shift. People have been blaming BJP for aligning with separatists forces (PDP & NC) which have been discriminating Jammu and blindly favouring Kashmir. Whenever the state has been ruled by regional leaders, inter-region tensions have increased and centre state relations strained. Their days are getting over. Hence it is in the best interest of state that nationalist leaders take the centre stage in J&K politics. Nature also beckons such change. Hope Congress doesn’t commit mistakes, does not play divide and rule between Azad and Mir, sooner projects Azad as future Chief Minister and he carries the Dogras along.
Even at the risk of slight contradictions, what I have said is what I have seen on the ground being a close-by onlooker of the recent visit but what my take from all this is that Azad Sahib was on an important exploratory visit to Jammu which is likely to impact his and ‘G-23’ crucial future course of action; the outcome of which is expected within a month or so.
Col J P Singh