Team Ghulam Nabi Azad: Former ministers to ex-MLAs, upper castes to Dalit and Gujjar faces, J&K Congress leaders who have rallied behind him

Team Ghulam Nabi Azad: Former ministers to ex-MLAs, upper castes to Dalit and Gujjar faces, J&K Congress leaders who have rallied behind him

A slew of Congress leaders, including former legislators and ministers, from the Jammu region have met veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad at his New Delhi residence since last Friday, when he resigned from the party. A number of these leaders, who owe allegiance to Azad, have also quit the party. As Azad, the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, gears up to launch his own political party in the coming days, they are expected to join it. Here is a look at some of these leaders who are also prominent faces among the Dalit, Rajput, Brahmin and Gujjar communities in J&K.

G M Saroori

Former minister and a three-time MLA from the Inderwal (now Mughal Maidan) constituency in Kishtwar district, G M Saroori, 66, who has resigned as the J&K Congress vice-president, was one of the three party leaders who managed to retain their Assembly seats in the Chenab Valley amid the Narendra Modi wave during the 2014 Assembly elections.

He left his government job in the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Department only two months after joining it to start his career as a businessman along with his father Saidullah Saroori, who served as the Sarpanch of the Sarthal Panchayat for 32 years. He first contested the Assembly election in 1996 from Inderwal as an Independent candidate, losing by just nearly 200 votes. Later, he contested the 2002, 2008 and 2014 Assembly elections as the Congress nominee and won all of them.

A Gandhian associated with social activist Nirmala Deshpande, Saroori served as a minister of state in the J&K government from 2003 to 2008 and then as a cabinet minister in 2009-10. He got the best legislator award during the PDP-BJP government in 2015-16. In 2008, he played a key role in defusing communal tension in the Chenab Valley by getting arrested the culprits behind the theft of an idol from Mata Sarthal Devi temple.

However, Saroori has also been at the centre of various controversies over the years. In August 2010, he was sacked from the J&K cabinet by the then CM Omar Abdullah in the wake of a controversy over the alleged use of an impersonator for his daughter during a medical entrance examination. The minister, who maintained that he was a victim of his rivals’ plot, had left for Umrah ignoring the Congress high command’s directive to resign. However, during the CBI investigation, he and his daughter got a clean chit.

His rivals also sought to link Saroori’s name with Jehangir Saroori, the longest-surviving militant in the Chenab Valley. He was even called by the NIA for questioning but given clean chit after the investigating agency found that the militant’s actual name was Mohammad Amin Bhat alias Jehangir in initial official records who was later called by the name of Jehangir Saroori as he hailed from the Saroor area of Doda’s Drabshalla block.

Tara Chand

The 58-year-old Dalit leader, Tara Chand was the J&K deputy chief minister in the Omar Abdullah-led National Conference-Congress coalition government from 2009 to 2014. A three-time Congress MLA from the border Chhamb Assembly constituency in Jammu district, Tara Chand had also been the Speaker of the J&K Assembly. The only Congress candidate in Jammu district to have won the 1996 Assembly elections, from Chhamb, he was re-elected from there in the 2002 polls —  and even in the 2008 polls despite the Amarnath land row that erupted earlier that year. In the 2014 polls, he however lost to the BJP candidate.

Jugal Sharma

A one-time MLA and ex-minister who also served a term in the erstwhile J&K State Legislative Council, Jugal Sharma hails from Katra town, which acts as a base camp to the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Trikuta Hills, is a prominent businessman. He joined the Congress in 1992 and unsuccessfully contested the 1996 polls from Reasi seat as an Independent against the party’s wishes. He returned to the Congress fold after a year and won the 2002 polls on its ticket from Reasi. He became the minister of state in the Mufti Sayeed-led PDP-Congress government and was later elevated to the cabinet rank when Azad took over as the CM succeeding Sayeed as part of the alliance agreement for a rotational CM from both parties. After he lost the 2008 Assembly polls, he was elected to the Legislative Council in 2012 during the tenure of the NC-Congress coalition government.

Choudhary Mohammad Akram

A prominent Gujjar face from the border Poonch district’s Surankote Assembly constituency, Choudhary Mohammad Akram quit his government job as an assistant executive engineer to join politics after the death of his father Choudhary Aslam, a veteran Congress leader, in 2014. He successfully contested his maiden Assembly election from Surankote that year.

Akram belongs to a prominent political family among Gujjars and Bakarwals in J&K. His father Choudhary Aslam, after returning from the Aligarh Muslim University on completion of his studies, had joined politics and fought elections in 1966, defeating Syed Jamat Ali Shah, who had been getting elected from the area for 13 years.

Aslam had joined the Congress that year and during a political career spanning over 48 years, he held various important positions including the MoS, finance, education minister and the  Assembly Speaker. He had also been a Rajya Sabha MP and the vice chairman of the Gujjar Bakarwal Advisory Board, even as he also remained the J&K Congress president for 17 years.

Akram’s grand father, Chowdhary Ghulam Hussain Lassanvi, was also a prominent Gujjar leader, who had formed the Gujjar Jat Conference for the welfare of Gujjars and other common people. After the Partition in 1947, his elders crossed over to the Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (POK), but returned to Poonch in 1951.

Akram is also a relative of senior NC leader and ex-minister Mian Altaf, who is a prominent Gujjar leader from Kangan in Kashmir.

Manohar Lal Sharma

A former minister Manohar Lal Sharma, who has an MPhil in chemistry, was appointed as a government teacher in J&K in 2001, but he did not take up this job. Instead, he joined the Congress in 2002 and went on to win his maiden Assembly election from the Billawar Assembly constituency in Kathua district in 2008. A soft-spoken leader, Sharma is known for his upright image.

Choudhary Gharu Ram

A former Congress MLA from the Suchetgarh Assembly constituency, Choudhary Gharu Ram had won the election as a Congress nominee in 2002, defeating the then BJP leader R S Chib with a margin of just 137 votes. He was later inducted as an MoS into his Council of Ministers by Azad after he took the helm of the J&K government in 2006.

R S Chib

A former Indian Air Force officer turned politician, R S Chib has a  B.E. degree from the VITS Pilani and a post-graduation degree from the IISc, Bengaluru. He is an IETE fellow. Born at Watala Bhimber, which is now in POK, Chib has also been an honorary professor in Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University in Rajouri.

An erstwhile friend of the NC president and ex-J&K CM Farooq Abdullah, Chib had been the health minister in his cabinet from 1987 to 1990, when he quit his post following differences with the former. He later joined the Janata Dal, which was then ruling the Centre under the leadership of Prime Minister V P Singh.

Subsequently, Chib joined the BJP and unsuccessfully contested the 2002 polls from Suchetgarh. He later joined the Congress — leaving it last Friday in support of Azad.

Abdul Majid Wani

A well-known forest lessee, Abdul Majid Wani had been a two-time MLA from Doda. He successfully contested his maiden election in 2002 as the Congress candidate, defeating the NC’s senior leader Khalid Najeeb Suharwardy, who was then the MoS,

home. In the 2008 polls, he again won and became a minister in the NC-Congress coalition government. In the 2014 polls, however, he lost to the BJP’s Shakti Parihar in Doda.

Salman Nizami

A Youth Congress leader from Banihal in Ramban district, Salman Nizami shot into limelight in 2017 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi slammed him for his alleged anti-India rhetoric on Twitter. While Nizami, who was reportedly appointed as the J&K Congress joint secretary, denied the charge, the Congress party was quick to distance itself from him, with senior party leader Rajiv Shukla then even claiming that they did not know him.