New Azad Party

FORMER veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Monday formally floated a new party and named it Democratic Azad Force (DAF). He also released his party flag with three strips in different colours—mustard, white and dark blue. Talking to the media, Azad made measured noises while being mindful of the sensitivities in Kashmir Valley and Jammu division. He refrained from pitting himself against the other parties saying political opponents are not enemies. He asserted that everyone had a right to propagate their own policies and programmes in a democracy and that it was for the people to choose any of them. The DAF leader also brought up the cancellation of the annual darbar move saying  the arrival of people from Kashmir used to boost business activities in Jammu. And addressing concerns in Kashmir, Azad called on the administration to give priority to the movement of fruit-laden trucks from Kashmir to elsewhere in the country as the fruits have shorter shelf life.

Azad is planning more rallies across the union territory to drum up support for his new party. And his message is resonating with a significant section of the population. For one, his exit has by and large depleted the local Congress ranks. It only further reinforces the once vaunted national party’s image of a sinking ship. And in J&K, as a result, Congress has ceased to be a viable political force with hardly any vote-gathering leader left in the party. Major J&K Congress leaders with a substantial following in their respective constituencies have joined Azad. Among them are leaders like Taj Mohiuddin, Ghulam Mohammad Saroori and Pirzada Mohammad Sayeed and the like. This is expected to enable Azad to make deep inroads into the constituencies of the other parties, particularly the Muslim vote bank which may or may not go to the advantage of the BJP.

But there is a counter opinion too which sees Azad as a viable challenger to both the BJP and the Kashmir-based parties. Some even see him as a future chief minister. Should he get more seats, the former Congress leader is also seen as a favourite to form the next government with the support of Kashmir-based parties.  But for now, these analyses are in the realm of speculation.

Azad has also nullified the earlier rumours of joining the saffron party by floating his own  party. His is the second party to have come up in J&K following the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019. The first one is the Apni Party led by the businessman turned politician Altaf Bukhari which sees the withdrawal of Article 370 as a fait accompli. Azad also doesn’t insist on the reversal of the move but wants land and job rights for the “native domiciles,” only. This demand is something on which there is a room for a potential consensus between Kashmir and Jammu. However, the coming weeks and months will reveal whether Azad’s message resonates with the people or not.

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