BY MOHD MAJID MALIK ,DODA,MAY01— The Congress may have gone blue in the face denying resignation offers by four Union ministers, including Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, but that the former chief minister is contemplating a return to Jammu and Kashmir is no secret in the state. Azad’s recent flurry of visits to Jammu and Kashmir makes his renewed interest in the state’s politics rather obvious, and are being seen by political analysts as a component of the party’s larger restructuring plan for the Lok Sabha elections that are due in 2014.The generally somber Azad took everyone in the political circles of Kashmir off guard when he blasted the National Conference-Congress government for ignoring developmental projects taken up during his chief ministership. While the National Conference’s recently appointed spokesman Tanvir Sadiq says there is nothing much to read into Azad’s statement and his recent visit as Jammu and Kashmir ‘is his home turf’. Party insiders believe the NC leadership has been “virtually put on notice”.
Political observers in Kashmir believe that Azad’s foray will only add to the uneasy relations between the coalition partners. The recent outcry of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s uncle and party general secretary Dr Mustaf Kamaal against Azad is being seen as an expression of anger that ‘the NC is reeling under’. On Monday, last, Kamaal, known for his attacks against the Congress, opened old wounds yet again.The brother of party president Dr Farooq Abdullah accused India’s grand old party of failing to implement the 1975 Accord reached upon between his father Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The accord had brought back Sheikh Abdullah to power after 22 years of isolation. He was removed as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir on August 9, 1953 by Jawahar Lal Nehru and reinstated as chief minister of the state by Indira Gandhi in 1975. Kamaal, who was reinstated as party additional general secretary after an embarrassing exit last year, told a packed media conference that he sought total implementation of the 1975 Accord. In 2011, Kamaal—the man at the forefront of attacks against the Congress—was asked to quit from the post of additional general secretary and chief spokesperson as he made statements ‘against the coalition dharma’.But this time round, he has found support from his nephew—the 42-year-old chief minister who in tandem attacked Congress state chief Saifuddin Soz, asking him to desist from making public statements against the coalition. Sadiq feels that the Soz’s attack over 73rd amendment to the Panchayat Act was unwarranted as he heads the coalition committee and could have discussed the matter internally. “Soz is the head of CC and as we all know there are two school of thoughts of the Congress party on the issue and as Omar Abdullah has said the amendment was not possible as the state is under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.”However, sources say the two Congress groups ‘have reached a truce for a common goal’. “Another indicator of the changing scenario in Congress-NC relationship is the purported truce between Azad and his bête noire Saifuddin Soz,” says a Congress insider. Soz and Azad had been working at cross-purposes in the state to strengthen their interests and sway in the party.The war of words between the two groups seems to have stopped for a while. “There have been no adverse reactions from Soz’s camp against Azad or from Abdul Gani Vakil, the Kashmir face of Azad’s group against Soz,” says the source.The ‘temporary truce’, sources say has been brought about by the central leadership of the Congress and Azad’s new Kashmir sojourn has a nod from the national leadership. The party is relying again on the coterie of old guards and their expertise for the Lok Sabha election in 2014. The rethink in the strategy is for all the states and Jammu and Kashmir is no exception.Congress’s woes have increased also due to opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), headed by former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Syed. The party that is just about 10 years old has made some senior inroads in Jammu division considered to be a bastion of the Congress. “What has made the Congress more concerned is the party’s loss of ground in Jammu. The PDP has made serious inroads in Congress boroughs in Jammu,” says a Congress leader from Jammu on condition of anonymity. The PDP is gaining unexpected popularity in Jammu besides Muslim belts of Rajouri, Poonch and Doda. “It is worrying the party,” says the senior Congress leader. And then there is the Bharatiya Janata Party which fared well is the last Assembly elections bagging 11 seats in the 87-member Assembly.The Congress leader believes a reshuffle and inclusion of some more ministers—at least two or three Azad loyalists—in the Cabinet is necessary before the Health Minister can be assigned with a major role. Sources close to Azad say the Congressman is very keen to return to state politics. The move is perhaps instigated by the recent drubbings in the state and municipal elections across the country. “He wants to reserve a place for himself before he is thrown out of business in the possibility of a defeat at the Centre,” says a leader from the Soz camp