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Ghulam Nabi Azad Quits Congress: Why He Needs Several Lessons From Mufti Sayeed

Azad is likely to form his own party in J&K, a step Mufti Sayeed took in 1999. But the circumstances are different.

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"I learnt politics from Sanjay Gandhi and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. I don't need lessons from anyone," Ghulam Nabi Azad is said to have remarked sometime in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Remember, this was a time when many Congress leaders were upset with the increasing influence of Rahul Gandhi and his team over Congress affairs after his appointment as the party's vice president in 2013.

Why is the Mufti Sayeed-Ghulam Nabi Azad Parallel Important?

The Sayeed-Azad equation is an important one to look at now that Azad has quit the Congress and is said to be considering forming his own party.

The fact that J&K Congress leaders GM Saroori, Haji Abdul Rashid, Mohd Amin Bhat, Gulzar Ahmad Wani, Choudhary Mohammad Akram and Salman Nizami have resigned along with Azad seems to point in the direction of the formation of a new J&K based outfit.
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This was a step that Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took in 1999 when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government was in power. He had left the Congress on an earlier occasion, in 1987 and joined the Janata Dal and become India's home minister in 1989. But he returned to the Congress a few years later, only to leave again and form the Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party in 1999.

How Sayeed and Azad Chose Similar and Yet Different Paths

Both Sayeed and Azad were Congressmen from the pre-Rajiv Gandhi era. Sayeed was an Indira Gandhi loyalist, Azad a Sanjay Gandhi one. Both won Lok Sabha elections outside their home state of Jammu and Kashmir - Sayeed on a Janata Dal ticket from Muzaffarnagar in 1989 and Azad from Washim in Maharashtra in 1980 and 1984, a safe Congress seat at that time.

Both had differences with Rajiv Gandhi, but in different ways.

Sayeed is said to have considered himself a far stronger votary of New Delhi's interests in Kashmir and opposed Rajiv Gandhi's alliance with Farooq Abdullah's National Conference.

Azad is said to have initially resented the importance given to Rajiv Gandhi when he was brought into politics following Sanjay Gandhi's death.

In some ways, Azad considered himself more a stronger defender of party interests than Rajiv Gandhi, a sentiment that has come up in a far more intense form against Rahul Gandhi over three decades later.

To be fair, some of Azad's criticism of the functioning of Rahul Gandhi isn't wrong - especially the manner in which he "resigned in a huff" in 2019 as well as the unilateral functioning of his team.

However, Azad is himself a product of the Congress' culture of sycophancy and lack of accountability that he accuses Rahul Gandhi and his team of.

Azad was to a great extent responsible for the mismanagement of Jaganmohan Reddy's rebellion in Andhra Pradesh. In that context, Azad functioned with the arrogance typical of a New Delhi politician when confronted with a ambitious regional leader.

But even in his own state (now UT) Jammu and Kashmir, Azad been accused of not allowing second-rung leaders to grow. Despite this Azad continued to get prominent positions in the party and in government and was seldom held accountable.

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What Lies Ahead For Azad and How He Can Learn from Sayeed

Sayeed was always a shrewder politician and understood both New Delhi and Kashmir better than Azad. Sayeed realised better than Azad not to attach one's political worth to a particular political party. He tried to become a politician who is "useful" for New Delhi in Kashmir but never became a New Delhi fixture like Azad.

Sayeed didn't share Azad's obsession with the Congress party and deftly changed allegiances to further his career.

Azad is now being forced to do what Sayeed did by choice - start his own party.

Sayeed was 'useful' for New Delhi at a time when it was looking at creating political competition to the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir. But he engaged with it on its own terms and got several concessions in return, such as the disbanding of Ikhwanis and the adoption of a more gentle policy in Kashmir. Through Mehbooba Mufti's more aggressive approach, the PDP at its peak managed to occupy a much wider political spectrum in the Valley.

Azad lacks the nuance, sophistication and shrewdness that characterised Sayeed's politics.

However, Azad, may be of some use to New Delhi in Jammu and Kashmir.

The BJP is desperately looking for political actors there who can help split votes in the Kashmir Valley as well as the Muslim majority pockets in Jammu - such as Doda, Rajouri and Poonch. As a Muslim from Doda, Azad fits the bill. And as a former CM, he would also have the political heft to serve as a counter to the PAGD led by Mehbooba Mufti and the Abdullahs.

In that sense his function is same as that of Mufti in 1999 - to create political competition in J&K. But the Centre's aim is a different one - this time the ultimate mission is the faciliate an elected BJP-led government in J&K so that the its withdrawal of statehood can be ratified in the Assembly.

The maximum role that the BJP can concede to Azad or any J&K leader for that matter, is that of a sidekick.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Article 370   Rahul Gandhi   Sonia Gandhi 

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