A blitzkrieg of public meetings by senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad across Jammu and Kashmir has fuelled speculation that the former Rajya Sabha MP – part of the dissident ‘G-23’ group in the party – may launch his own outfit soon.
Mr Azad has been tight-lipped but has been tangentially critical of the Congress, more so than ever at a public meeting in Poonch, where he said that he can’t see the Congress winning 300 seats in the 2024 elections.
Mr Azad was responding to criticism for his about-turn on Article 370.
After his strong opposition to the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in parliament, Mr Azad said that his only demand is the restoration of statehood and holding assembly elections.
Around 20 loyalists of Mr Azad in the Jammu and Kashmir Congress have resigned from their party positions in the last two weeks. In their resignation letters, the leaders have asked about the sweeping changes in Congress including the removal of Ghulam Ahmad Mir as the state unit chief.
“We have requested party high command that they recognise that there are certain problems within the party. We want to rectify those problems. As for as Azad sahib is concerned, he’s our leader and has been here for so many years,” said GN Monga, Vice President of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress, who is one of the 20 leaders who have quit their positions.
Mr Monga said in the letter they have also asked for the removal of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief. “Yes, we have asked for his removal. It’s there in the letter,” he said.
The large crowds in Mr Azad’s public meetings have surprised observers and rattled the Congress. Mr Azad has been a Rajya Sabha MP for close to four decades. The last time he fought an election was in 2014, from Jammu’s Udhampur constituency seat, losing to the BJP.
Sources say most Congress leaders in Jammu and Kashmir are likely to side with Mr Azad if forms his own party. “There are several leaders from other parties who have approached Mr Azad to join in case he floats his own party,” said a source close to him.
A worried Congress has said they respect Mr Azad but are unhappy with the resignations.
“Entire party respects him. We respect him but follow discipline. But there are some people who are considered close to him (Mr Azad)… Their statements are clearly a violation of discipline,” said Ravinder Sharma, spokesman Jammu and Kashmir Congress.