Days ahead of former senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s announcement of a new political party, senior Congress leaders, party workers and those who desire a change in the political map of J&K have started joining him.
Taj Mohiuddin, senior Congress leader and former minister resigned from the Congress and joined Azad on Sunday. Four former ministers are likely to do the same in the coming days.
Although the regional National Conference (NC) has so far managed to keep its party rank and file together, yet the emergence of Azad in local politics is not going to be a welcome development for either the NC or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
NC president, Dr. Farooq Abdullah has always had cordial relations with Azad personally. Mehbooba Mufti’s father ruled from 2002 to 2005 as the chief minister of the state heading a PDP-Congress alliance that broke in 2008 when Azad headed the coalition as the chief minister.
As a Union minister and senior Congress leader, Azad has always supported the regional aspirations of Jammu, Valley and the Ladakh region. This is one reason that despite the well entrenched position of the NC in the Valley, people in all the three regions of the erstwhile J&K have always respected Azad.
How much of his respect among the people of the Valley would actually be reflected in the votes his party gets in the Assembly elections notwithstanding, he is all set to provide a secular alternative to those who desire to look beyond the NC and the PDP.
In the Jammu region, Azad is politically very well placed in his native Doda district as well as in other districts like Poonch, Rajouri, Ramban and Reasi.
His secular, nationalist image is going to help him in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts of Jammu division as well.
It is because of his emergence in J&K politics that the Congress, the Peoples Conference (PC) headed by Sajad Lone and the Apni party headed by Syed Altaf Bukhari have started calling him the proxy of the BJP.
Former Congress president of J&K unit, G.A. Mir called him the ‘A team’ of the BJP.
Interestingly, NC and the PDP have maintained a steady silence over Azad’s intentions to join the forthcoming Assembly elections.
Whether the NC and the PDP accept it or not, the fact remains that Azad’s entry into J&K politics may be as graceful as a swan, but he could well become a thorn in the flesh of his rivals.
His entry would upset the calculations of the NC and the PDP in the Muslim majority Assembly constituencies of Jammu division.
How many of those he wins in the Assembly elections will have to be watched, but the presumption that those seats would go to the NC or the PDP is no longer a foregone conclusion.
Many seats in the Hindu majority constituencies of Jammu division, which the Congress was banking upon, have become anybody’s guess after Azad parting ways with the Congress.
How many of the 90 seats Azad’s new party will win can be debated for and against, but that he can substantially influence the outcome of elections in 15 to 18 seats is something nobody can dispute.
Finally, whether or not the BJP will support Azad as the next chief minister if the former cannot get a simple majority on its own?
With any future alliance between the BJP and either the NC or the PDP ruled out and the fact that the forthcoming Assembly elections are unlikely to yield a clear mandate for any single party, Azad would come as a fait accompli for the BJP.