As Congress' fortunes continue to dwindle, the grand old party has appointed its crisis manager and local leader Ghulam Nabi Azad as the chairman of its campaign committee for Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir.
Azad, credited for being the first Congress chief minister of J&K, has an uphill task ahead of reviving the party in the state in the run-up to Assembly polls starting November 25. The Congress leader's most daunting task is to boost the morale of the cadre, in the wake of successive loses at the Centre and in several states. Azad needs to make the cadre believe that the grand old party still holds significance in Indian politics and has not been blown away by the NaMo wave.
Azad was born on 7 March 1949 in Kashmir's Doda district. He has an MSc (Zoology) degree and educated at the Government Degree College, Bhadarwah; GGM Science College, Jammu; SP College, Srinagar; and Kashmir University, Srinagar. During his college days he was an outstanding NCC cadet. Azad is married to a renowned Kashmiri singer, Shameem Dev Azad, and has a daughter and a son.
The senior Congress leader and former Union health minister entered into the political arena at the age of 24 and became the president of Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Youth Congress in 1975.
Azad, whose political career spans along three decades, rose in Congress' central ranks at an early age. In 1980, he became the president of the All India Youth Congress and served as union deputy minister in the ministry of law, justice and company affairs in 1982-83.
Since then Azad has held several portfolios in various Congress-led governments at the Centre.
He has held many positions in the Indian National Congress. He has been a permanent member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) since 1987 and attained the general secretary post of All India Congress Committee in 1999.
Azad served as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir from 2006 to 2008 before being succeeded by Omar Abdullah, who came to power as the head of a coalition government of National Conference and the Congress.
Now, with both the alliance partners – National Conference and Congress - deciding to go alone in the upcoming polls, the Congress is banking on the popularity of Azad during his term as chief minister of the state between 2006 and 2008 – a period when the state witnessed all-round development.
Azad, meanwhile, is not contesting the forthcoming elections and he may have sent a wrong signal to the electorate and party cadre by doing so. It seems the senior Congress leader is yet to overcome the loss he suffered in the General Elections from Udhampur constituency.
However, Congress president Sonia Gandhi continues to have faith in Azad.
It, however, remains to be seen whether Congress' lone fighter in J&K can tackle the mighty Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party, which is leaving no stone unturned to taste power in the beautiful but troubled state.
In 2012, Congress' gamble of sending former union minister Virbhadra Singh back to Himachal Pradesh had paid dividends as the grand old party comfortably won the Assembly elections. The party leadership has played the same card again, but at this juncture Azad not only faces people's resentment towards the current government of NC which had partnered with the Congress till recently, but also the Modi-Shah factor.