Ghulam Nabi Azad a Congress veteran, but party's recent appointments indicate his waning presence, need in J&K unit

FP Staff

The Congress, like any other political party, isn't immune to in-fighting and has seen some leaders express displeasure over its state of affairs and distance themselves from the party. Nearly two years ago, former foreign minister SM Krishna quit the party citing 'interference' from party chief Rahul Gandhi.

There were also reports of discontent and internal squabble in the Maharashtra Congress last week and there were reports of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra being roped in for damage control and campaigning ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Reportedly, state leader Milind Deora is unhappy with the functioning of the regional unit and has even hinted at sitting out of the 2019 contest.

However, one senior leader has been facing constant neglect from the Grand Old Party's high command despite support from the from party workers. Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has been part of the party for over four decades now and is a former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, presently has a very limited role in the state.

In AICC's recent announcement of poll panels for the Jammu and Kashmir Congress Committee, Azad's name was mentioned very low in the rank of leaders appointed as election in-charges. While PCC president GA Mir is heading both the election and the campaign committee of the state, as the Chairperson, Azad's name has been placed at number three in these panels. In the coordination committee, which is being headed by Ambika Soni, Azad has been kept at fourth place after Mir and Nawang Rigzin Jora, while a number leaders from his camp have not been adjusted in any of these panels.

Azad had already dissociated himself from these committees, conveying his displeasure over the arrangement and structure of the panels. However, several senior leaders of Jammu and Kashmir Congress passed a resolution demanding that Azad be given the full charge of elections in the state. The resolution was forwarded to the Congress high command and Rahul, who had approved the panel choices.

It is interesting to note that Azad was head of the Congress Campaign Committee in three consecutive Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir since 2002, and has been a popular face in the state throughout.

According to some reports, Congress leaders have also hinted that if the top leadership of the party does not consider their request, a revolt may take place as they feel that under Azad's able and dynamic leadership, the party can emerge victorious in the upcoming state polls.

Meanwhile, according to a report in The Times of India's, Congress sources have said that the draft of these committees was sent to Azad for his approval and he conveyed to the leadership that he would not be part of the Jammu and Kashmir panels since he is busy with the management of elections at the national-level. He said that he would campaign in the state but would not have time for state-centric meetings.

The party sources maintained that Azad was offered the chairmanship of the campaign committee, which he apparently refused and thus it was only then that the committees were drafted without him at the head of any panel.

According to the report, a state-level programme of party workers is scheduled on 17 February and Azad, along with AICC general secretary in-charge Soni, are scheduled to address it. At that meet, the party may make another attempt to clear the air about any possible trouble in the state unit.

However, Congress leaders in the state are not giving up on Azad and want him to be the chief ministerial face of the party. "He is the tallest leader in the Congress as far as Muslims are concerned. That is the reason, he will not take any role in the state immediately. But when elections approach, he will take charge," a former Congress MLA was quoted as saying in this DNA report. "We are going to meet Rahulji and request him to make an announcement in this regard," the Congress leader said.

Azad, who had played a key supervisory role in Uttar Pradesh election campaign, was recently made general secretary in charge of Haryana. He had contested from Udhampur Lok Sabha constituency as a joint candidate of Congress and National Conference in the 2014 General Election.

Azad was in command of party affairs in Uttar Pradesh till 2018, however, with the introduction and induction of Priyanka, as well as youth leader Jyotiraditya Scindia in the state's fold, he was once again sidelined. On Monday, when Priyanka visited Lucknow on her maiden visit to the state post being made the general secretary, Azad was nowhere to be seen in the milieu of ministers who lined up to welcome the new leader.

With Congress planning to consolidate its national prospects and aiming at infusing new blood into the party, it would only be wise for it to not neglect senior leaders like Azad who have stuck around in the system longer than most and have led the party to big turnarounds at various occasions, despite its drubbing in the last Lok Sabha election.

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