At his first rally in the Valley since splitting with the Congress, Ghulam Nabi Azad said Sunday that he would not “mislead” people and promise restoration of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. For many Azad loyalists in Kashmir, who are sitting on the fence about going with him or not, this makes a decision more difficult.
While Azad’s stand was pragmatic and realistic, as he asserted that any restoration of special status required a two-thirds majority in Parliament and no non-BJP party was likely to get that in the near future, Article 370 remains an article of faith for Kashmir.
This could be one reason why Azad’s Sunday meeting had a lackluster reception, with traditional Congress supporters too staying away. The crowd was less than 3,000 people, party leaders said.
This is also the reason why the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), and its constituents National Conference (NC) and PDP, retain a return to Article 370 as top of their agenda – even if moderation may have begun by the parties not setting it as a condition to contest elections.
In his speech, Azad took potshots at parties like the NC and PDP for holding out hope regarding Article 370 to the people.
Apart from blowback from this stand of Azad, his loyalists are also waiting to see how allegations that he is a BJP “proxy” play out.
Barring former ministers Taj Mohiuddin and Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed and a former legislator, Mohammad Amin Bhat, none of the other Congress leaders in Kashmir province known to be Azad loyalists has so far thrown their weight behind the veteran leader and former chief minister.
Among the three as well, only Mohiuddin, a Gujjar leader, retains some political influence. Sayeed has been relegated to political oblivion while Bhat’s popularity is limited locally.
“There is no doubt that Azad sahib is a remarkable leader. He has shown it as the Chief Minister of J&K. But right now, there is so much uncertainty and things are not fully clear,” an Azad loyalist from the Valley said, referring to the allegations that he had been prodded by the BJP to form a new political party. “When he was in the Congress, we were fully behind him. But now, we have to wait for things to clear up,” he added.
Incidentally, the other prominent Kashmir party that has taken a stand similar to Azad’s on J&K special status is Altaf Bukhari’s Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP), which is also seen as propped up by the Centre. Despite being two years old now, and starting off with a bang with many political leaders joining it, the party has failed to grow as a formidable unit.