In the contest between ‘secularism’ and ‘communalism’, the seasoned congressman was tasted dust. Many believe, Ghulam Nabi Azad fell to the whisper campaign launched by BJP-RSS in the region that sought votes for Modi by invoking incidents like Kishtwar riots. Bilal Handoo analyses the fall of the ‘crisis manager’ of Congress who couldn’t make it to parliament from his home turf
He had a hunch when he delayed his decision to contest from Udhampur parliamentary seat. By May 16, it became quite clear—as why seasoned Congressman, Ghulam Nabi Azad, 65, was apparently naysayer at the first place. Many believe, rather than losing to BJP’s Dr Jitendra Singh Rana, it was Modi wave that marred his chances to register a win from his home turf.
The ‘crisis manager’ of Congress lost to BJP’s Dr Rana by a margin of 60,976 votes. In his maiden bid to Lok Sabha from Jammu and Kashmir, Azad polled 426393 votes against Dr Rana’s 487369 votes. A shocker for many, but Azad’s defeat isn’t first in his political career.
At the very outset, he faced hiccup by losing Inderwal assembly seat in 1977. But so far surviving in active politics – either by contesting outside J&K, or becoming Rajya Sabha member, Azad helped Congress to become a major political force in the state in 2002 when it allied with PDP. Azad replaced Mufti Sayeed as the chief minister after three years but the coalition disarrayed in 2008 summer after Amarnath land row hit the valley. However, in a battle between the individual (Azad) and the party (BJP), the congressman was tasted dust.
But before nodding for parliamentary polls, Azad pitched his busy schedule: organizational commitments, assignments and campaigning—only to stay way. In fact, during his recent visit to Chenab Valley, he publicly ruled out the possibility of contesting Lok Sabha. But Congress believed Azad was their only saviour who could counter the Modi wave which created cleavage in Jammu region.
The idea was: Azad can manage consolidating the Muslim vote of the region and get a good share of Hindu votes—simply because, he belongs to the region and is respected across the communities. But as Congress’s sun set under Modi’s rise, Azad became a scapegoat.
Besides, NC in connivance with Pradesh Congress chief, Saifuddin Soz, equally pushed for the Azad’s candidature for the seat. The two Congress MPs—Madal Lal and Lal Singh were not of NC’s choice, and thereby the state coalition partner sought their immediate replacement—as the duo had ignored the Muslim region completely. Also, Azad had perceived his earlier BJP opponent for Udhampur seat, Dr Nirmal Singh as his tough rival contestant. But as BJP fielded Dr Rana, the buzz was: Azad perceived Dr Rana a minnow and went ahead for polls.
A sense of contentment had gripped both Congress and NC when Azad was officially fielded. But what appeared a mere cakewalk turned out to be a Herculean task. And as the countdown began, the powerful minister like Azad was reportedly denied a meeting by an ARO on the day of polling. The denial led certain quarters to speculate—that congress’s sun has indeed gone into hiding.
But the defeat of the Chenab Valley’s prominent son is indeed a shocker for Congress—as Azad was always known for his ‘Midas touch’ to secure victories for his party when going was tough. He delivered victories in several key states, including Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Due to his organisational skills, he has been the AICC general secretary for a record nine times and member of the powerful Congress Working Committee for 18 years—perhaps, the longest period among the current leaders.
Starting his political career as block congress committee secretary in his native village, Bahlesa, Azad became the first man from the minority community to be appointed as the President of the All India Youth Congress in 1980. After being elected to the Seventh Lok Sabha from Maharashtra’s Washim constituency in 1980, he entered into the central government as deputy minister in-charge of Law, Justice and Company Affairs Ministry in 1982. Subsequently, he was elected to the Eight Lok Sabha in 1984.
As a union minister, he steered successive Congress governments to victory in 21 no-confidence motions, including the minority government of PV Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s. And in 1996, National Conference nominated him to the upper house.
A 1949 born, Azad was the parliamentary affairs minister of India in Manmohan Singh’s government until October 27, 2005, when he was appointed as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. In the second united progressive alliance government, Azad was sworn in as the Health Minister of India.
Married to Shameem Dev Azad, a well known Kashmiri singer, Azad has a son Saddam Nabi Azad and a daughter Sofiya Nabi Azad. His loss to BJP has brought him at par with senior cabinet ministers like Dr Farooq Abdullah who was defeated by ‘giant killer’.
But well before facing the defeat, his onetime mentor, Mufti Sayeed had left the ground open for him by cancelling at least eight public meetings scheduled in Azad’s parliamentary constituency. Though PDP fielded Arshad Malik for the same seat, but the party had tacitly surrendered for Azad as “a goodwill gesture”. In fact, Mehbooba Mufti also adhered to her selective campaigning in Chenab Valley. But even then, a Kashmiri speaking Jammu Muslim could not repeat what he demonstrated in April 2002—when he won from home constituency without campaigning and went on to become chief minister of the state.
After losing a contest between ‘secularism’ and ‘communalism’ to an old RSS man, Dr Rana, Azad is reportedly applying a fresh coat of paint on his Srinagar residence – perhaps, the ‘crisis manager’ is soon returning home, to escape, the scorching sun of Delhi now!