Ghulam Nabi Azad Feels The Heat In Kashmir

15 April 2014
The Economic Times
Masood Hussain

Batote: In Chenab Valley, a region battered by heavy rains and snowfall, a Kashmiri-speaking Muslim from Jammu is feeling the heat. Ghulam Nabi Azad is the most popular politician in the area, a vast mountainous constituency which is tacitly polarized. Azad continues to be the main choice to govern Jammu and Kashmir but BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is giving him a run for his money. 'If we see the election as Azad versus Jetendera Singh Rana (BJP candidate), it is a cakewalk for Azad,' says a resident, Pradeep Singh, in Doda. 'But if it is Azad versus Modi, the dynamics changes.' The region has remained polarized historically but the immediate instance being talked in whispers are the riots of August 2013, when Hindus and Muslims fought on the day of Eid. Apart from three killings including two Muslims, the rioters destroyed 35 vehicles and nearly 100 shops. Last weekend when BJP candidate Rana drove around town his young followers, wearing Modi masks, put up an impressive show. 'After the Modi government takes over an impartial probe into the Kishtwar riots of August 9 will be announced,' Rana said. 'Neither the losses incurred by the business community were compensated for nor were the culprits responsible for riots brought to book.' This promise has the currency in neighbouring Bhaderwah and echoes are felt in Udhampur and Kathua. Perhaps Azad had felt the pulse and reiterated his reluctance to contest. But the Congress party forced him to make it to the parliament for the first time in his political career from his home turf. He did contest from Bhaderwah assembly segment in April 2006 when he was already the chief minister. He filed his papers and skipped campaigning and created a record of sorts by taking almost all the votes except 4,057 that the BJP polled. A repeat of this record may be difficult because the matrix has changed. He has 16 other assembly segments (as part of his constituency) that include populous districts of Udhampur and Kathua where BJP has a sound base. It is the idea of unseating Congress in Delhi that is dominating the scene here than caring about Azad, the 'son of the soil'. Congress has been getting a good vote share from the twin districts. This time party seems to be outsmarted by BJP mobilization. Denying mandate to Lal Singh, the MP for last two terms, has contributed to the whisper campaign against Azad. That is perhaps why Azad is focusing more on Kathua-Udhampur districts rather than Doda-Kishtwar-Ramban-Reasi belt.