Rejuvenated, Congress looks for a rebound in J-K

J&K Congress is holding a mega convention in Srinagar on August 6, its first in a long time. Even though the grand old party has been bolstered by the signs of turnaround at the national level, it will need more effort to re-establish its footing in the UT. A report by Rriyaz Wani

In signs that Congress’ recent rejuvenation across the country has also put wind in the sails of its Jammu and Kashmir unit, the latter is holding a mega convention in Srinagar on August 6, its first in a long time. The event which will host senior leaders from all districts, district development council and block development council members, along with present and former panchayat members, is geared to prepare the party cadre for the possible Assembly elections in the union territory. 

The convention is scheduled to be addressed by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir, Rajini Patil, and co-in-charge Manoj Yadav. 

Talking about the event, Jammu and Kashmir state Congress president Vikar Rasool emphasized the importance of restoring democracy in the union territory and demanded that elections be held at all levels. He also stressed the need for delimitation in panchayats to ensure fair representation and effective governance, particularly in regions with vast geographic spread.  

Under Rasool, Congress is trying to pick up the pieces following the deep erosion in the party’s support base since 2015 Assembly polls in which it just won 10 seats, all of them from the Kashmir Valley.  The exit of Ghulam Nabi Azad, once a top national-level Congress leader and a former J&K Chief Minister, last year also left the party reeling in the region. Azad floated Democratic Azad Party (DAP) which attracted many former Congress leaders, including some senior leaders commanding significant support on the ground.  

Even though the J&K Congress has been bolstered by the signs of the Congress turnaround at the national level, particularly after its resounding victory in Karnataka early this year, the party will need more effort to re-establish its footing in the union territory. Ever since the BJP rose to power at the national level in 2014, it has been on a roll not only in other states but also in J&K. The Congress, on the other hand, has witnessed a steep fall in its electoral fortunes in the region.  

But now the party is slowly finding its feet again. And one of the major factors in this has been Rahul Gandhi’s yatra which ended in Kashmir Valley on January 30. Like elsewhere in the country, the yatra generated some political buzz in the Valley. It reinvigorated the party’s rank and file in the union territory boosted further by the return of leaders who had joined the Azad’s DAP. And for another, Gandhi entered the former state with a proper political agenda: the party sought Article 371 for J&K. 

The J&K unit is currently trying to build on these gains. However, whether it maintains the political momentum until the Assembly elections, now unlikely to be held until the 2024 general polls, remains to be seen. And the demand for statehood and possibly for Article 371 is likely to find a wider political resonance in the UT, including in the Jammu division, where people have become insecure about losing lands and jobs to outsiders following the revocation of Article 370 and Article 35A.   

“Democracy which has been wiped out by the BJP in J&K should be restored,” Rasool said. “It has been nine years since assembly elections were held.” 

But ultimately, Congress’ fortune in J&K, both in the yet to be announced Assembly polls and the general elections next year, will be determined by how fast Congress recovers at the national level. And to this end, the upcoming elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand will be crucial.  Should Congress do well in these polls, its J&K unit could also hope to get back into the political reckoning in the union territory.