Rahul Gandhi’s decision to appoint Vikar Rasool Wani directly created a deep divide.
New Delhi: When the Jammu and Kashmir Congress unit was recently reconstituted, and Vikar Rasool Wani made its president, Ghulam Nabi Azad had been effectively side-lined, as Rahul Gandhi had directly promised Wani the top position, sources said. This had cut Azad down to size, reducing his dominance over Wani. “With a decision like this, he lost his control over the state cadre,” a senior leader said.
The decision to appoint Vikar directly created a deep divide. When Azad refused to be part of committees, he had, according to sources, reckoned two reasons: one, the state unit president wasn’t his choice, two the committee members were selected without considering his recommendations. More importantly, in the last meeting on 14 July, which was conducted over the appointments for Jammu and Kashmir cadre, it is said by the party leaders that there was too much of friction seen between G.M. Surroori and Vikar Rasool Wani. They said that Surroori was propped up by Azad to flex his words against Wani. It was confirmed, they say, when Azad tried to silence Wani as he pressed to speak up for himself. It is worth mentioning that Azad had included Vikar as well in his panel of recommendations, but later refused to back him in the meeting, sources said. The Sunday Guardian asked Vikar Rasool Wani about his equation with Rahul Gandhi and Azad, and he said, “I have closely worked with Rahul Gandhiji, he has helped me grow in politics and Azad sahab had brought me to the centre-stage of politics.”
Gandhis’ plan to cut Azad down
It is believed by the state leaders that the matter of choosing the president in the state was kept hanging by the Gandhis so that the supporters of Azad get weary of him, making them conclude that “Azad has failed to deliver”, thus significantly denting his popularity in “machine politics” in his home state. A senior leader who has known Azad from close quarters and was later side-lined because of him, said, “The high command had gone around Azad to make decisions directly in Jammu and Kashmir, it signalled that the Gandhis no more required him. They tried to isolate him. This development had a great significance because he has served the Congress under three Gandhi generations and had been an important man of Congress. He has been a very big leader. The high command’s decision showed he is no more important.” An ex-president of one of the state units of Congress said, “When we had bypolls sometime back, we needed the veteran minority leader (Azad) to campaign for us. It would have sent a positive message across. But there was no plan in place to include him I suppose.”
Impact on J&K cadre
The Jammu and Kashmir state unit had two factions, Azad’s and Mir’s. Those leaders who considered Azad their benefactor now glided into the Wani camp believing that Azad had lost heft to help lower-rung political leaders gain ascendency. Those who had difficulty or refused accepting Azad’s imposition in the party were compelled to join the ranks of Abdul Gani Mir. They will accordingly join Wani, reducing Mir’s strength by some notches. The re-arrangement of the party’s political chessboard, according to political analysts, had rendered Azad devoid of political strength in the party. It was seen that all these considerations were mapped by Azad to end his relationship with the Congress.
Senior leaders close to the Gandhi family indicated that when Azad cried in Rajya Sabha and applauded PM Modi, it created knots in the relations with the Gandhis and made Azad’s standing weak in the party. “He was unable to make decisions in the party the way he used to,” a source said. Other sources claim, he is close to the BJP which has substantially fractured the Azad-Gandhis relationship. Moreover, a senior CWC leader, seeking anonymity, had said a week before Azad’s resignation, “His leaving the Congress will have no impact on the party.” The Sunday Guardian also talked to a source close to Wani, who said: “Wani has nothing against Azad. Azad had his own bitterness towards the top leadership.” Consequently, Azad’s impression on the Kashmir cadre had also substantially reduced. If many leaders in the state Congress are to be believed, “Azad cares only for Azad”. They also say that he did not stand for anybody in the party unless it benefitted him. This had reaped an image of him in the party, as they describe it, of “self-serving”.
Plan for a
Azad had, a few weeks back, opened up with his close aides to float his own state party. Some leaders in the Congress are of the opinion that the anti-Azad sentiments in the party had trickled down deep in the party. And these series of important events propelled him to embark on a new venture of founding a new party. A Congress leader said, “If he forms a new party, it will take time to get established. And if it does after some years, he will be too old by then to reap its benefits.” Azad is 73 years old. According to two other prominent senior leaders in Kashmir, Azad does not have that footing in politics which he had a year ago, he may have difficulty keeping his ambitions buoyant.
Where did he stand in the G23?
The group of G23, which is regarded by political observers as a group that undermines the Congress’ top leadership, had been arrow-headed by Azad. The 23 leaders had been pushing for reforms in the party but in the current phase of party politics, the movement has failed to gain traction. Gandhi loyalists say that the G23 has been turned on its head in the aftermath of Azad’s resignation. “It has also sent a strong message against the Gandhi dissidents,” a party insider said. As experts say a politically inactive group makes it a politically irrelevant group.
A senior Congress leader said, “If we talk about the relevance of the G23, some important leaders in it had got bigger roles in the party and others were politically inactive which had consciously or unconsciously left Azad alone and powerless there as well, pushing him to take this extreme step.”