Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

Will Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Azad Party Be Just Another Regional Party In J&K?

Will Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Azad Party Be Just Another Regional Party In J&K?

The return of former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and the announcement of his party have been overshadowing political developments in Jammu and Kashmir while other players like National Conference, BJP, and PDP watch.

Ghulam Nabi Azads press conference
Ghulam Nabi Azad's press conference Photo: PTI

Former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad launched his party on Monday, naming it the Democratic Azad Party. Azad said that the party will be secular in character and action and it will not discriminate among people on the basis of religion and communities. And above all, he said, it will be a regional party, not a national party. The former Congress leader added that he will no be fighting elections by campaigning for the restoration of Article 370. 

“I have never said the restoration of Article 370 was not possible. And I never said this can’t happen," Azad said. "I say I cannot motivate Prime Minister Narendra Modi (to restore Article 370). If anyone has the power to persuade Modi Ji and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, they should do it. That would be great. But I do not have any such influence on them (Modi and Shah). I couldn’t influence them in the parliament, how can I do it from here now,”  Azad said. “If they (other political leaders) have such friendship with them (Modi and Shah) they should do it,”  he said at the party's launch.

However, he said,  in records of the parliament, he would be the only parliamentarian who has spoken most about Article 370. “But I don’t use such issues for the elections. The elections are all about rising prices, jobs, development,” he added. He said the Supreme Court has agreed to list the Article 370 case after the Dussehra vacation. “It was a welcome step that the Supreme Court will be hearing the case from October 10,” Azad said.

He said his party will make development an election plank besides restoration of Statehood to J&K and protecting jobs and lands of the locals.

“I am launching Democratic Azad Party (DAP). It symbolises democracy and freedom of speech and thoughts. Our ideology will be based on the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi,” he said. Azad displayed the Party flag (Blue, White and Yellow) during a crowded press conference.

Since Azad resigned from the grand old party in New Delhi, he has been in the news in Jammu and Kashmir. Not a day passes in Jammu and Kashmir when some senior political leader is not resigning from the Congress party and showing loyalty to Azad. Azad apparently has changed the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir since his resignation from the Congress party.

Amid this political upheaval in Jammu and Kashmir, the Centre government appointed Lt Governor of J&K, Manoj Sinha has been making frequent political statements. In his recent communication, Sinha said those times have gone when jobs were sold in Kashmir. He also states that the days of stone-throwing are over and the militancy will be over in a year.

But it is the return of Azad and the announcement of his party that is overshadowing political developments in Jammu and Kashmir.  It initially unnerved Apni Party leaders. They have been criticising Azad and calling him failed Chief Minister of erstwhile J&K state, who hasn’t brought any industry or investment in J&K.

However, National Conference, BJP, and PDP are silent about Azad and are watching his moves. 

Apni Party’s concerns about Azad are real. The formation of the Apni Party was the first major political initiative in Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, aimed at filling the political vacuum created by the detention of hundreds of mainstream political leaders from the National Conference and the Peoples’ Democratic Party including three former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti.

On January 25, 2021, Apni Party President Syed Altaf Bukhari met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. 

Bukhari was earlier with the PDP and remained Minister in the PDP-BJP government holding important portfolios including education, works, and finance. On 8 March 2020, this businessman turned politician formed Apni Party when Mehbooba Mufti was in jail. The NC and others call the Apni Party the BJP’s B-team in Kashmir.

At present political parties are waiting for polls in Jammu and Kashmir. In the 2014 elections, PDP had secured 28 seats, becoming the largest political party in the House. It had formed the government, with the support of the BJP, which had secured 25 seats. National Conference had won 15 seats. As all PDP leaders have shifted to Apni Party after the latter was formed, the PDP is now a formal shadow of itself. And if there is an exodus from the Apni Party to the Azad party it will put Azad’s party in a strong position in Jammu and Kashmir.

Political Analyst Zafar Choudhary says the BJP government after the abrogation of Article 370 has brought many legal and constitutional changes in Jammu and Kashmir without facing many challenges. He says they would like to have Chief Ministers in Jammu and Kashmir who would be their trusted ally and will support its policies, especially on Article 370 and other issues. He says Azad seems an apt candidate and fits in the larger geopolitical realities of the region. Choudhary adds if the elections are held within the next six months, it will put the Azad-led party in a greatly advantageous position in Jammu and Kashmir and this party will be deciding the fate of J&K.

Critics, however, doubt whether the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir would give Azad anything on the platter.  They argue the BJP at a great risk dismantled Jammu and Kashmir State, and abrogated Article 370 after a massive military build-up. “At the present, the BJP is in full control of J&K. There is no stone pelting, militancy is at its lowest, and there are no strike calls, hundreds are in detention. The government passes laws changing land use policies without facing any protest.  The government is talking about giving voting rights to outsiders altering voter demography of J&K forever,” says a Kashmir-based analyst. He says the BJP has not done all this in J&K to give Azad a safe route to build a party for himself and become Chief Minister and ask for the restoration of the statehood. It looks out of the world. He says it looks Azad will more or else play the same role in J&K that Asaduddin Owaisi is playing on the mainland and will go to back Rajya Sabha after the polls.

The next few months are crucial for Jammu and Kashmir and if elections are held within six months, the performance of Azad's party will be keenly watched.