If Amarinder Singh, as the Congress CM of Punjab, had a good relationship with the Centre, Ghulam Nabi Azad too would keep the BJP in good humour even when he was the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. But the moot question is whether Azad has learnt any lesson from what had happened to Captain Amarinder Singh? Soroor Ahmed analyses the development and concludes that there is no scope for second innings now.

When former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh was replaced by Charanjit Singh Channi by the Congress in September 2021, he quit the party and floated his own outfit, Punjab Lok Congress. The media highlighted this development and predicted that the 80-year-old veteran may join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and thus may make a comeback.

Things went on the predicted line with the new party contesting election in alliance with the BJP and a

breakaway faction of Shiromani Akali Dal. But when the result started pouring in on March 10 this year, the two-time Chief Minister found himself down in the dump with hardly any chance to revive his fortune so late in the career. What is more humiliating for him is that he lost from his own Patiala seat, though Amarinder comes from the royal family of this former Princely State.

True, the Congress too lost the election to the fledging Aam Aadmi Party yet it is hoped that the party

may fight back in future as it finished second with Shiromani Akali Dal way behind. Amarinder not only lost, but even let down the BJP and together the alliance could not win more than a couple of seats in the House of 117.

This is the fate of the man who was till lately the Chief Minister of Punjab and had a firm root in the

state politics. With age not on his side, he has now become a sort of political liability for the BJP too.

If Amarinder, as the Congress CM of Punjab, had a good relationship with the Centre, Ghulam Nabi Azad too would keep the BJP in good humour even when he was the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha.

That is why after his resignation from the Congress Party a few days back many political pundits started guessing that he may go Captain’s way.

But the moot question is whether Azad has learnt any lesson from what had happened to Captain Amarinder Singh? Or is he carried away by the media hype?

Unlike Amarinder, who had won several Assembly and Parliamentary elections from Punjab, Ghulam Nabi Azad had hardly any base in his home turf of Jammu and Kashmir. He had been to the Rajya Sabha on the Congress Party ticket for five times and had won Lok Sabha election from Maharashtra long back. It was only in 2014 that he contested Lok Sabha poll from his State, but lost to Jitendra Singh of the BJP by a margin of over 60,000 votes.

Yes, He had served as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir when Congress went for alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party between 2005 and 2008. But that was when the United Progressive Alliance was in power at the Centre and the BJP was in turmoil after its patriarch Lal Krishna Advani’s praise of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in June 2005 in that very country.

Today the scenario is very different with the BJP calling the shot at the Centre and has even made a comeback in Jammu region. It won 25 seats – all in Jammu division – in the House of 87 in the last election held in 2014. Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party got 28 seats and formed an alliance

government with it. The National Conference and the Congress bagged 15 and 12 seats respectively.

Azad’s grievances may have been genuine but most independent analysts are of the view that the path he is taking may lead him to nowhere. Whether he remained in the party or not, the condition of Congress in Jammu and Kashmir was never very good. And Azad is not such a big leader that his exit would affect the party’s prospect elsewhere in India.

The BJP may try to use him to woo Muslim votes of Jammu region, from where he comes, but one cannot be sure of it. If seasoned and much rooted Amarinder could not pull his party and the BJP to victory in Punjab, 73-year-old Azad can only keep his fingers crossed.

Some Congress leaders of Jammu might have left the party along with him, but much depends on the way the voters react at the time of election, especially after the de-operationalisation of Article 370.

He had hardly any base in the Kashmir Valley and in the Jammu region his traditional Muslim supporters are not very appreciative of his proximity towards the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Thus, the saffron party’s strategy of dividing Muslim votes of Jammu and preventing them from going to National Conference and PDP may not work. Not only that, these two parties already had not much strong base outside the Valley.

After the delimitation there are 47 seats in the Valley and 43 in Jammu. The BJP is no doubt strong in Jammu, but has no base in the Valley, where it may seek support from some smaller parties, like Peoples

Conference of Sajjad Lone. Yet it is difficult for the BJP to cross the half way figure of 45. Ladakh has now a separate identity.

One should not forget that Amarinder also walked away with some leaders of the Congress Party on the eve of the Assembly election but all of them lost badly. In spite of this he has hailed Azad’s decision

to quit the Congress.

When, on September 4, he organised a rally in Jammu, just hours before Rahul Gandhi’s big public meeting in Delhi against price rise, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said he had nothing to comment on the BJP’s show of strength. Many Jammu and Kashmir watchers are of the view that Azad is really getting tacit support from the saffron brigade.

The strategy is similar as the one adopted in Bihar where the then Janata Dal (United) leader and Union

Steel Minister R C P Singh was greeted by the BJP supporters at the Hyderabad airport when he landed

there on the occasion of the BJP’s national executive (July 2-3, 2022). Though Singh tried to clarify that he was on the way to Tirupati, the manner in which the BJP workers welcomed him send the message clear to the Janata Dal (United) leadership. Bihar Chief Minister and the party’s supremo, Nitish Kumar, was quick to react and a month later he snapped ties with the saffron party.

Azad has not only gone too far away from the Congress, but has taken a big risk. Very often leaders who are at the autumn of their age fail to appreciate their own worth. There is no scope for second innings now.

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