Despite several leaders leaving in the wake of Ghulam Nabi Azad’s exit, the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir sees a silver lining. Party leaders say it has cleared the way for a revamp of the state unit, constrained so far due to the fear of ruffling feathers.
Congress spokesperson Jahanzaid Sirwal said the party high command is expected to soon announce a new team for the recently appointed J&K Congress president, Vikar Rasool, and working president, Raman Bhalla, with at least half of them set to be below the age of 50, as decided at the party’s Udaipur Chintan Shivir. The idea is to give a chance to young people who can work for the party on the ground, Sirwal said.
Leaders including Rasool and Bhalla will then head out for a tour of all the districts of the Union Territory. One of the tasks on the agenda is identifying prospective leaders right from the grass-root level to going up to probable contenders for Assembly poll tickets.
While Congress Working Committee member and former J&K minister Tariq Hamid Karra, who is also a member of the party’s UT political affairs committee, will tour Kashmir Valley and adjoining areas in the Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal regions of Jammu division, former Union minister Saifuddin Soz is meeting party leaders and workers across the UT.
Soz, who enjoys a good rapport with party workers across Jammu and Kashmir and is well-regarded for his organisational skills and propriety, is also a strong anti-BJP voice. In 1999, when he was an MP, Soz had defied his then party National Conference’s whip and voted against the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in a confidence motion, which it went on to lose.
A senior party leader asserted that the beeline of leaders to Azad, mostly in the senior and middle rung, was more a media story that would deflate soon. He noted that of them, only G M Saroori had some standing, having retained his Inderwal seat despite the Narendra Modi wave in 2014. He said many of the leaders with Azad were also fighting several charges, and that there was more scope now for the party to get in leaders with a clean image.
Another leader said that more than anger over the leaders who had left, the loyalists were pained by the timing and manner of their exit – just days ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s ambitious Bharat Jodo Yatra, and making Rahul a punching bag.
Sirwal pointed out that Azad had faced a humiliating defeat on his home turf Doda, in Inderwal Assembly constituency, in the only Assembly election he has contested in J&K, in 1977. After he became Chief Minister as part of an arrangement with the PDP in 2006, he won a bypoll. Sirwal said this showed that Azad was not a leader of the masses, nor grounded.