Ghulam Nabi Azad May Take First Popularity Test After Quitting Congress From J&K

Veteran political leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who quit Congress in two years ago, is ready to join the electoral fray in Jammu and Kashmir. With a series of public meetings by his Democratic Progressive Azad Party, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir may contest from the tricky Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha constituency.

The Anantnag-Rajouri seat is a prestige battle for Omar Abdullah’s National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party. The BJP is also making serious inroads the constituency.

Mr Azad, though, was coy. “I’m not ruling out contesting from Anantnag-Rajouri parliament constituency,” said the 75-year-old who has also served as a Union Minister in the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh.

“Lots of people are asking me to contest. Demand of my being in the parliament is more… but there are voices who want me contest assembly elections,” he told NDTV in an exclusive interview.

With Mr Azad’s entry, Anantnag could see a four cornered contest.
The seat was once considered a stronghold of the PDP, though National Conference won it in the last election.

Ms Mufti, is tipped to be contesting from Anantnag seat. In last parliament election she came number two and using her party’s poor performance, Omar Abdullah refused to concede the seat to PDP even though both parties are part of INDIA bloc.

BJP state unit chief Ravinder Raina is also extensively campaigning in the area, holding rallies in what literally were no-go areas for the BJP till a few years ago.

For Mr Azad — who for long has been a member of the Rajya Sabha — this would be his first test of popularity in his home state after his exit from the Congress. It would also make Anantnag an avidly watched contest.

Mr Azad’s Lok Sabha stint was in the 1980s from Maharashtra’s Washim constituency, 1991 onwards, he has been a member of Rajya Sabha. In 2014, he contested from Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur and lost.

Mr Azad has launched his own party Democratic Progressive Azad Party or DPAP after his exit from the Congress and has been making scathing attacks on Rahul Gandhi and functioning of the Grand Old Party since.

A member of the committee on “One Nation One election” headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind, Mr Azad said he strongly supports simultaneous polls for parliament and J&K assembly, which are long overdue.

The Election Commission is visiting Jammu and Kashmir to review the preparedness for elections. There are reports that the Commission is considering simultaneous elections in the Union Territory.

“I’m in favor of simultaneous elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The people of Jammu and Kashmir, are more concerned about assembly elections than parliament elections,” he said.

The last elected government in Jammu and Kashmir collapsed in June 2018 as the BJP withdrew from the alliance with Ms Mufti’s PDP.  In 2019, the state was bifurcated into two Union Territories and its special status under the Constitution was scrapped.

Jammu and Kashmir has since been under President’s Rule. The BJP calls it an improvement on the governments led by local parties. “Today poor people are getting their rights. PM Modi has given golden (health card) to every resident of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Ravinder Raina.

Mr Azad said after his exit from the Congress, he held around 600 public meetings across J&K over the last 18 months. “I’m very satisfied that I have formed my own party. There is overwhelming response from all sections of society,” he said. But his real challenge will be to convert this enthusiasm into votes.

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