Congress’ J&K Dilemma

EVER since it lost ground to the BJP in the 2015 Assembly polls, the Congress in J&K has struggled to get its act right. Over the last year, the party has witnessed some rumblings in its ranks. A section of the party leaders had last year revolted against the then state president Ghulam Ahmad Mir who recently resigned paving the way for a new president, who is yet to be elected. As things stand, veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad seems to have majority support in the party. He is also the only leader believed to have a significant support base in the union territory and hence the chorus within the party to make him the chief ministerial candidate. According to reports, the Congress high command has now principally agreed to the demand of the party leaders that Azad be named as the Chief Ministerial face.

In December last year, Azad addressed around ten impressively attended rallies in parts of the Jammu division and southern Kashmir, something that at the time greatly contributed to the revival of political activity in the union territory.

But the question is whether the Congress high command would appoint an Azad loyalist as the new state president? More so, at a time when Azad has fallen foul of the Gandhis and is part of the G23, the group of Congress leaders seeking reforms within the beleaguered national party. Whatever decision the high command takes would be critical for the revival and the survival of Congress in the union territory. The party has witnessed a steep fall in its electoral fortunes in the state turned union territory since the landslide victory of the BJP in the  Jammu division in the 2015 Assembly elections. The saffron party won 25 of the 37 seats in the division enabling it to be a part of the coalition government with the PDP which got 28 seats.  Earlier, from 2002-2015, Jammu and Kashmir had three successive coalition governments – PDP-Congress, NC-Congress and PDP-BJP.

The coalitions began with the advent of the PDP in 1999. The party formed by the former Congress leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti morphed into a credible Opposition by 2002 when it ended the NC’s vaunted political hold on Kashmir in the then Assembly polls. The new reality turned Congress into a kingmaker over the following twelve years. With the Valley’s seats split between them, the NC and PDP were hardly in a position to form the government without Congress’s support. But in 2015 polls when Congress was decimated in Jammu, the BJP stepped into the breach, obliging the single largest party PDP to share power with the saffron party. But it would be interesting to see whether Congress can reassert itself in the UT under a new president with Azad as its chief ministerial candidate.

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