By Deepika Bhan
New Delhi, Sep 4 (SocialNews.XYZ) After he broke away from the Congress, his political home for 52 years, the big question confronting political pundits is: Will Ghulam Nabi Azad survive and rise or simply fade away as another also-ran?
The challenges for him are huge, in the sense that he has never been a mass leader. For most of his 50-plus years in the Congress, he has worked at best as an organisational man, winning elections only three times - twice to the Lok Sabha (from Washim in Maharashtra), and once as MLA in the erstwhile J&K Assembly (Bhaderwah).
For the most part of his political career, he was in the Rajya Sabha, having been elected to the Upper House for five terms. He has occupied all the top positions in the Congress since 1982, and has been close to the Gandhi family.
Azad's moving away from his mother party after slamming Sonia-Rahul Gandhi for the state the Congress is in today, did grab headlines but did not create much of a stir in the political circles at the national level or in his home turf J&K.
Some leaders and workers resigned from the Congress in J&K, but none of the big names, either at the national level or in the Union Territory moved out in his support. Even at the national level, none of the G-23 members followed him.
Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari and Bhupinder Singh Hooda -- not one of them has come out in his support. In fact, Sandeep Dikshit, one of the G23 leaders, said he felt Azad had betrayed their collective cause. Dikshit said, "... leaving the party unfortunately strengthens the very policies, systems and people that made us write our letter of reform as a demand, as a duty and as our right."
After his letter bomb, Azad may have expected more desertions to happen. In J&K, all those who resigned were his friends, followers or associates. His leaving the Congress at this point of time may not have much impact upon the party which is at its lowest ebb, but had it been at the time when the G23 was formed in 2020, the effect could have been more.
Almost two years after Azad spearheaded the 23 Congress leaders who wrote to Sonia Gandhi for reforms in the party, he is now out in the open to start a new political journey that has already been coloured with the BJP hue. His praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only confirmed this angle.
Azad may have good friends in all the political parties, but to turn that into a political opportunity could be a big challenge. His lack of a mass base is one major factor that can multiply the challenges manifold.
His first test will be J&K. Here regional politics dominates and division on a religious basis is too obvious, his foray as a secular face can add a new dimension. Farooq Abdullah or Mehbooba Mufti, or other Kashmir-based leaders have over the past few decades been increasingly viewed as soft on separatists and don't have total support in Jammu.
On the other hand, Azad, who hails from Bhaderwah town in Jammu, can create a viable option. A secular leader with a good track record and a non-communal image, Azad can fill the gap that is wide open in the UT. His challenger is the BJP, which has a strong base in Jammu but has been struggling in Kashmir.
The BJP's lack of a mass base in Kashmir can bring the two together. Azad may have a friend in Farooq Abdullah or have good relations with Mehbooba Mufti and others, but once in the political ring, they are rivals. Azad has tough competition in the Abdullahs, the Muftis, Sajad Lone, Apni Party, and of course, the Congress.
Taking on the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) will be another challenge since it campaigns for autonomy and restoring the special status of J&K. Will he join them or stand outside?
An astute politician, Azad knows that a successful J&K mission can propel him to the national stage. That is his biggest challenge too.
The Kashmir turf is not an easy game and Azad knows this fully well. There are state, national and even international players involved, there is the religious consideration and local vs non-local politics, and then there is Pakistan-backed terrorism and sponsored separatist sympathisers.
J&K is an uncharted terrain riddled with conspiracy theories with which Azad is also familiar.
Amid all this will he be able to make his own standing or get propped up by the BJP or end as a bubble, the J&K test will prove that.
(Deepika Bhan can be contacted at email@example.com)