A chance for Congress in Jammu
4 March 2006
Srinagar: The decision of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to contest from the Badherwah Assembly segment will have a long-term impact on the politics of the State, especially in the Jammu region. Being in power for over three years now, the Congress has ample opportunity to strengthen its mass base in Jammu, which essentially gave it a fillip last time. 'Chief Ministership to the region' was one among the many promises the party had made to woo the voters. But allegations of rampant corruption against many members and Ministers have not been going well with the public. Analysts therefore believe that Mr. Azad's 'magic wand' to end corruption will not, on its own, help overcome the problem. The Congress, which emerged victorious from 16 Assembly segments in the Jammu region in 2002, got the chief ministership in November last when the then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed stepped down as per the power sharing agreement. To pave the way for Mr. Azad to contest the elections, his cousin and former Minister, Mohammad Sharief Niaz, has resigned his Assembly seat. In the Kashmir Valley, the Congress has emerged as a party with a limited base. The recent induction of Mr. Saifuddin Soz as Union Minister for Water Resources has come as a boon to the party. Observers say this will help convey a feeling of being pro-Kashmir. Last month, when Prof. Soz visited Kashmir, he was accorded a grand reception which was indication enough of his acceptance among the Congress workers given his past association with the National Conference. Otherwise seen as a leader of the minorities, his inclusion in a top decision making body such as the Congress Working Committee has also sent a good signal. Except Ghulam Ahmed Mir, the youthful leader from South Kashmir, there is hardly a leader in Kashmir Congress who can withstand the test of popularity. Mr. Mir recently organised a public meeting in his home constituency, Dooru, which was attended by thousands. PCC chief Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, Taj Mohiuddin and Abdur Rasheed Dar too were elected from Kokernag, Uri and Sopore. But Mr. Sayeed is facing charges of corruption in the multi-crore Rural Development scam and Mr. Mohiuddin's vote bank is confined to the Gujjar community. In the case of Mr. Dar, his victory is seen as a default as veteran Congress leader G.R. Kar refused to contest the election from Sopore in 2002. These 'days of power' may help the party consolidate further. But the real test will be in 2008, when the Assembly elections are scheduled to be held.