Column | Success of Azad's new party will depend on his impact in Assembly polls

Ghulam Nabi Azad. Photo: PTI/Manvender Vashist Lav

Congress leaders breaking away and forming their own regional parties is not new, as it has been a regular occurrence since per-Independence days.

The oldest surviving breakaway faction of the Congress is the All India Forward Block, formed in May 1939, four days after Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose resigned as the Congress national president following serious differences with Mahatma Gandhi.

Bose wanted the party to be born in blood as he asked members to sign the pledge in their blood. Thousands joined him as he declared an all out armed struggle against the British empire. Soon the British banned the party. Yet it won a seat to the Central Assembly in 1946.

The Congress, which had not accepted the breakaway group as a party, expelled Bose's supporters only in 1949, four years after he died in a plane crash.

Latest in the long list of stalwarts who formed their own party is veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. He quit the Congress after a 50-year-long career in which he rose to become the chief minister, Union minister, party general secretary and long-time member of the working committee.

His supporters, who also quit the Congress, are sure that he would launch a regional party in Jammu and Kashmir. In his long and bitter resignation letter to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, he said he wanted to uphold the values of the Congress that the party forsook under the Gandhi family leadership during the last decade.

Netaji Subash Chandra Bose with Mahatma Gandhi. File photo

Thus, it is certain that he would use the word Congress as part of the name of his new outfit.

One of the parties registered with the Election Commission is Jammu and Kashmir Congress. Since the Indian National Congress already exists, the Election Commission could ask the new outfit to use 'A' in it name, referring to Azad, to avoid non-recognition.

But use of the word 'Azad' may not be to the liking of BJP, which has opposed the demands for freedom for the Union territory. That, however, is a worry for the future. At present, Azad has to deliberate on the contours of his new party before announcing the details.

Among the regional parties, many have their origins in the Congress, like Sharad Pawar-headed Nationalist Congress Party, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala Congress and the Punjab Lok Congress started by former Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh.

They have had mixed success in elections, with the Trinamool Congress and YSR Congress winning consecutive elections, while NCP has long been an alliance partner in the Congress-led governments both at the Centre and in Maharashtra.

The Kerala Congress, despite many breakaway parties over the decades, has been a key player in Kerala elections. A faction controlled by the late K M Mani was one of the main constituents of UDF. Now his son Jose K Mani has switched sides to be part of the LDF.

Several parties, started by big and small leaders who left the Congress like G K Moopanar, D Devaraj Urs, N D Tiwari, K Karunakaran and Madhavrao Scindia, either came back to the mother ship, or saw its cadres join the BJP or other regional parties.

As these veterans had mixed experience in running and sustaining their regional parties, Azad, who is 70, will have to shoulder the responsibility of not only building the party but also raising enough resources from the small region he is eyeing to control.

Showing him their support, his close followers including former legislators and party office bearers in both Jammu and Kashmir regions have resigned from the Congress.

If Azad is serious about electoral politics, his party would need headquarters in both Srinagar and Jammu city, apart from functional offices in all the assembly constituencies. While initial convention of supporters is always more easy to organise, what matters is the nitty-gritty of building the outfit.

Abandoning the comfort and resources of the Congress party also means Azad would have to raise enough resources for the organisational functioning as well as for campaigning during elections.

The personal magnetism of leaders like Mamata and YS Jaganmohan Reddy helped their parties come to power. Reddy also had the considerable wealth he inherited and the money from business to fund the first five years in the

opposition, while Mamata had to sustain for 14 years to make her party the alternative to the Left front.

NCP President Sharad Pawar with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after a meeting at his residence, in Mumbai, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Photo: PTI

But those who are egging Azad on to start his own party feel that Jammu and Kashmir, with its small population and the dependence on the alliance with regional outfits like the National Congress Party and People's Democratic Party, does not need much funding. And a leader like Azad, who knows the territory well, can manage with far lesser resources than demanded in large states, they believe.

But the real question is what kind of impact would Azad have in an election to the state assembly. And what issues would he take up to deal with a divided population where the Kashmir valley is unhappy about withdrawal of special privileges under Article 370 of the Constitution, while the majority of Jammu region supports the BJP decision?

Azad's main support base has been among the Muslims of Jammu's border districts as well as Hindus who always supported the combination of National Conference and the Congress.

As one of the top troubleshooters of the Congress, Azad always had good rapport with regional parties from Tamil Nadu to Kashmir. But now he has to negotiate deals for his own supporters, while opposing the Congress. He also has to ensure that his party's long endurance.

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