ON SUNDAY, former Jammu and Kashmir minister Taj Mohiuddin became the first senior Congress leader from the Valley to quit the party and put his weight behind Ghulam Nabi Azad.
The move is significant as it might become a precursor for other Congress leaders in Kashmir to join Azad. Valley leaders in general and senior Congress leaders in particular are hesitant about Azad as many see the proposed launch of his new political party as another project of the BJP.
Perhaps that is why, when Mohiuddin announced he was joining Azad, it was with the assertion that the new party to be floated by Azad would soon align with the BJP.
Since Azad ended his five-decade-old association with the Congress, several senior leaders from Jammu have announced they would be going with him, unlike the hesitation in Kashmir.
A prominent Gujjar leader and post-graduate in Economics, who joined the Congress in 1986, Mohiuddin, 77, originally hails from the Jammu province but for many decades now has made the Valley’s border region of Uri his political turf. Uri has a mixed population of Gujjars and Paharis, the two largest tribal communities of J&K.
Uri used to be a National Conference stronghold, with the party’s Mohammad Shafi holding the Assembly seat for over three decades, till Mohiuddin defeated him in 2002 from the constituency. He won again in the 2008 Assembly elections. In 2014, Shafi wrested the seat back, but by then Mohiuddin had established himself as a Congress leader of substance.
The 2002 win was so spectacular that it had earned Mohiuddin a Cabinet berth in the Congress-PDP coalition government. In 2009, when the Congress returned to power, this time in coalition with the National Conference, Mohiuddin again became a minister, holding the portfolios of Public Health Engineering and Irrigation and Flood Control.
It is during this tenure that Mohiuddin is said to have earned friends as well as foes in both the erstwhile state and at the Centre. His castigation of power company NHPC as the ‘East India Company’, over sharing of the power generated, had not gone down well with the Congress government at the Centre, though he had earned the appreciation of partner NC, and then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
Following the scrapping of J&K’s special status, as politics took a backseat, especially in the Valley, Mohiuddin had surprised many by announcing that he would contest the District Development Council (DDC) polls from Uri in 2020. The elections had been billed by the Centre as another rung of democracy, amid raised temperatures over the abrogation of Article 370.
Mohiuddin was the only former minister to get into the fray, and won the DDC elections from Uri as a Congress candidate.
The DDCs have since remained stillborn, unable to function under a tight security blanket, leading to people losing trust in them.
Mohiuddin has had his share of controversies, including corruption charges and allegations of land grab in Shopian. Days after he entered the DDC poll race, the CBI had booked him in the alleged Roshni land scam that is pending before the investigation agency.
The only Muslim J&K chief minister from the Jammu region, Azad will get a boost if Mohiuddin can swing enough of the Gujjar votes to him, not just in Kashmir but also Jammu. As per the 2011 Census, J&K had a Gujjar population of around 10 lakh, or 8% of its total numbers. Almost all Gujjars in the erstwhile J&K state are Muslims.