Congress high command it seems is convinced that the old war horse in Ghulam Nabi Azad is a spent force, given the recent churn in the state unit.

By Anil Anand

How else does one explain the latest blow to the former Chief Minister of J & K & a man for all seasons Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad, being sidelined in the manner that he seems to be finding himself today? After the recent self-inflicted electoral drubbing in the civic elections the faction ridden Congress in Jammu and Kashmir is in the throes of yet another crisis and this time it is different and more serious. Different because the person at the centre of the crisis, though it is not of his making, is none other than former chief minister of the state and now Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad.

The crisis has surfaced as the party was gearing up for coming Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the state which in all likelihood are to be held together. The report that Azad has dissociated himself from the election related committees formed by the Congress president Rahul Gandhi has come as a thunderbolt and created panic in the state unit. Although he has not given any reason for distancing himself from the panels, the ostensible reason is that his projection in the committees is much below his standing and a clear mismatch to his stature as a veteran Congress leader.

Is it an attempt to clip his wings by some AICC quarters in cohorts with the state Congress chief? If the answer is in affirmative then a natural supplementary will be, whether the state Congress has any leader to fit into his shoes & take the mantle on.

It is certainly not an inadvertent act or a typographical error but a well thought off plan to challenge Azad’s authority at least in Jammu and Kashmir. The fact that Congress is synonymous with him in the state and that no one can even conjure a scenario at present where the party can go to elections either without Azad or with his half-hearted involvement. If such a scenario takes shape or is allowed to happen under pressure from certain factions the electoral battle would be as good as lost even before firing a single shot.

The party president Rahul Gandhi had on February 7 approved the formation of the Coordination Committee, Pradesh Election Committee, Campaign Committee, Publicity Committee and Media Co-ordination Committee for the state Congress. Rather paradoxically Azad, who is being seen as the Congress’ chief ministerial candidate and the one who would lead the charge in elections, has virtually been  ‘cut to size’ as some of his detractors in the Congress described the situation after his sidelining from three key election committees.

The State Congress chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir has been named chairperson of the Election Committee and the Campaign Committee whereas AICC general secretary in charge Jammu and Kashmir, Ambika Soni was named chairperson of the coordination committee.

In the coordination committee headed by Soni, Azad’s name figured at number four behind Mir and even Congress Legislative Party leader and Leh MLA, Rigzin Jora. Similar is the design in Election and Campaign Committees with only difference being that Azad’s name figures at third place behind Mir and Jora.

This seems to be the trigger behind Azad’s decision to distance himself from the exercise apart from the fact that some of his supporters have been kept out of the lists while many insignificant and unknown names figured in it. Given the fact that he has held sway over Congress affairs in the state for nearly over three decades now, by dint of his stature and performance particularly as chief minister, is reason enough for him to react in this fashion. He is still strong and well entrenched to be dealt with kid gloves. Perhaps his detractors in J&K and in AICC thought he would take the thing lying down. But that does not seem to be the case.

The fact of the matter is that Azad is indispensable for the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir and that there is none other to lead the party in coming elections. The second and third rung leaders are not only inconsequential in the larger context of the state politics but are embroiled in bitter factional fights for narrow personal interests.

The impact of sidelining Azad has already started showing affect. His supporters are angered at it and have publically expressed dissatisfaction over the move. Whereas, on the other side the rival faction who might have masterminded the move to sideline Azad is in a tizzy for the simple reason that his strong reaction was beyond their comprehension.

Could they afford to ignore Azad? The answer is no and it is substantiated by reports that both Mir and Jora, who were in Delhi to attend a meeting of the state Congress chiefs and CLP leaders called by the party president, tried in vain to meet Azad. They failed to get an audience with him or did Azad refuse them an appointment.

What intrigues most is that Azad’s sidelining has come days before the state Congress was preparing to organise a big workers cum public meeting to be addressed by him in order to activate the party machinery for elections. It has now turned to be a prestige issue for Azad loyalists as they view the meeting as an opportunity for show of strength.

The indispensability of Azad is vindicated by the fact that many who till the other day were rallying behind Mir, have changed track. They have issued statements against sidelining of Azad and opined that without him (Azad) it would be difficult for the party to win elections or be in a position to dictate terms in the event of a coalition formation with like-minded parties such as National Conference.