Addressing his maiden rally in Jammu and Kashmir after resigning from the Congress, Ghulam Nabi Azad stressed that his new party would bring together the people of the two provinces of the Union Territory, with its topmost agenda being restoration of statehood to J&K and “protection of the rights of locals” to land and employment.
Arriving to a welcome by hundreds of his supporters, Azad, a former chief minister of J&K, also said that the Congress had lost its will to fight.
He hoped to dismantle “the walls of hatred” being raised among people, Azad said, starting with the name of his party. “I will not issue a diktat sitting in Delhi about the name and flag of the party. It will be decided by people from both Jammu and Kashmir divisions, by consensus… My party’s name will be in the Hindustani language, in line with the Ganga-Jamuni culture envisioned by Prime Minister Pt Jawaharlal Nehru… This is the language spoken by the common man in his house, and it is not in a maulana’s Urdu or a panditji’s Sanskrit, but understood by all the people of India,” Azad said, adding that he hoped to get support both in villages and towns and cities.
Seeking that J&K be restored as a state, the senior leader said: “We do not want a Legislative Assembly which has a Lt Governor, but an Assembly which can legislate laws and has a Governor.” “Who are we to reject such a provision that has been in the Constitution for 72 years, and which has the acceptance of all the Presidents and Prime Ministers, whether of the Congress or other parties?”
Azad also questioned why J&K had a different nomenclature when it came to rural local bodies, in the form of District Development Councils and Block Development Councils, when these were called zilla parishad and block samitis elsewhere. “They (the government) themselves create divisions and ask us to integrate,” he said.
Claiming middle ground
Seeking the return of and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley “in an honorable and dignified manner and without any coercion”, Azad expressed concern over selective killings by militants of civilians, including the Pandits.
He promised revival of sick units in J&K, creation of employment avenues, equitable development of all regions, affordable accommodation, IT Parks and better healthcare.
Taking a dig at the Congress, he said he was not like armchair leaders sending out messages on computers. “I have always remained connected to the ground,” Azad said, adding that he stayed at houses of party workers in villages when in-charge of a state.
He also talked about his incarceration along with hundreds of Youth Congress workers after they courted arrest over the dismissal of Indira Gandhi from Parliament and refused to furnish bail bonds. “Today I see people from the Congress courting arrest. As they are being taken in a bus, they call the Director General or Police Commissioner, requesting that their names be noted down, and they are released in an hour.”
This is “the reason that the Congress is not moving forward”, Azad said.
With the Congress alleging that he is acting in tandem with the BJP, Azad took a dig at the BJP as also the Apni Party, the Kashmir-based outfit believed to have the Centre’s backing. Without naming the Apni Party, he referred to the “restlessness”of a party about him despite the fact that he had not uttered a word against it in the past two years.
Among those present on the dais at Sunday’s rally of Azad were former MLA Suhaib Lone, who earlier left the Congress to join the Apni Party, and Syed Bashir, who was a minister in the coalition government headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Most senior leaders of the Congress who have joined Azad, including former ministers and ex-MLAs, as well as members of various districts and block development councils were present at the rally.
Azad is expected to be in J&K for nearly a fortnight, during which he will meet a cross-section of people and address rallies across the UT.
The Congress launched an attack on Azad soon after his rally, including questioning his claim during his speech that he had won his first Lok Sabha election from Washim in Maharashtra in 1980 practically on his own.
The party’s J&K spokesperson, Jahanzaib Sirwal said that prior to the Washim election, Azad had faced a humiliating defeat on his home turf Doda, in Inderwal Assembly constituency, polling only 959 votes and having his security deposit forfeited in the 1977 Assembly polls.
Sirwal said Azad was trying to distort history by claiming that he was a “politician connected” with the people. “Statistically and factually, Ghulam Nabi Azad has never been able to win a single election, except for an Assembly by-election from Bhaderwah (when he was the CM),” Sirwal said, adding that Azad had spent most of his political career in the Rajya Sabha.
“He is not a leader of the masses and neither is he grounded. He is in fact a power-hungry schemer with no principal or ethical boundaries.”