Whither Congress

After dominating the history of Jammu and Kashmir for decades, the Congress is completely out of the picture now, writes Zahoor Malik

JK Pradesh Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir and Congress Working Committee member Tariq Hameed Karra

Having been a part of Kashmir politics for decades, Congress is seemingly a non-existent force in Jammu and Kashmir.

There are hardly any signs of its revival in the near future as it lacks a leader, who can pull it out from the political comma. Senior leader and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who many believe was having acceptability both in Kashmir and Jammu regions in the past and had the potential of re-strengthening the party, has since drifted away. Other leaders do not have the clout to bring back Congress on the political map in near future.

Congress’s continuous fall at the national level is having its effects on the party here. As the party seems directionless from Delhi, the party workers have fallen prey to a  sense of defeat, lack of enthusiasm and absence of strong leadership.

In Jammu, its erstwhile stronghold, Congress was almost wiped out by BJP in the last assembly polls. Then, BJP and PDP had emerged stronger in the erstwhile state. Even National Conference was better. Post-August 2019, restrictions impact PDP and NC.

Months before the reading down of Article 370, Congress wanted to consolidate its position in Jammu. It wanted to cash on the reported public resentment in Jammu against the non-performance of most BJP ministers during the short-lived BJPDP rule in the state.

But the developments on August 5, 2019, whitewashed everything and Congress hopes to reclaim the lost space evaporated. Observers feel that the Modi factor will continue to help BJP in Jammu in times to come even as the party itself lacks a local strong leadership. Modi’s magic and agenda is key to BJP to keep its support base intact. Congress now seems completely ill-equipped to meet the challenges posed by Modi influence in Jammu.

Chequered History

Congress was instrumental in Jammu and Kashmir’s accession with India. It was the political source of special status to the erstwhile state. Tragically, it was the only force that eroded the special status and engineered the installation and fall of various client governments in the state.

Pradesh Congress President G A Mir addressing party workers at Langate on Saturday February 20,2021.

Till 2014, Congress had become a key part of government formation in Jammu and Kashmir and has assumed the status of a kingmaker. It was perpetually in power – with PDP till 2008 and later as a partner of NC. This was possible because of the strong position of Congress in Jammu and some bonus seats in Kashmir. The emergence of BJP under prime minister Narendra Modi in a big way in national politics undid Congress in the Jammu region.

Congressmen in Kashmir honestly admit that their party is nowhere -neither in Jammu nor in Kashmir. Whatever little hopes of the party revival from time to time, are getting shattered with every new development.

In Azad’s Praise

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s farewell praises to senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad in Rajya Sabha, Azad’ equally warm response to it and later meeting of Congress dissidents in Jammu and its fall out caused friction in the party. With tears in his eyes,  Modi praised Azad for his role as Jammu and Kashmir chief minister after an attack on Gujrati tourists in Srinagar. Then, Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat. The prime minister recalled the shock and concern of Azad over the killings. Azad in his speech praised Modi for not taking personal the opposition’s criticism on the policies of his government.

Later at a function in Jammu, Azad hailed the prime minister for not hiding his roots and feeling proud of his personal background. The former chief minister’s pro-Modi comments and his meeting with some other Congress dissidents saw the party workers holding protests against him in the winter capital.

Nothing New

Infighting in state Congress is not something new. It has been there at the party for a long time. It has been a faction-ridden party both in the states and the centre.

Congress workers burn an effigy of senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad during a protest, in Jammu, on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.

Rival state leaders used to patronage their respective sections and they would draw their power from the factions at the centre. These infightings did not weaken the party because of the strong leadership at the centre. The Congress leadership in Delhi would pick up their favourites in J&K from time to time as per their requirements at that time and promote them accordingly and fit them in governments.

The situation has changed completely. Right now there is hardly any leader or camp left in the Jammu and Kashmir Congress that has the capacity to change the fate of their party. As long as Modi continues to dominate the national politics, Congress too has to wait. Because of the abrogation of article 370 and other major steps, seen as very bold by BJP, Modi is likely to stay on the Indian political scene for long. Congress will have to learn how it can survive under these tough circumstances here. Otherwise, the party, which had shaped and redefined the political future of Jammu and Kashmir will be completely out of the picture for a long time.

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