In Chenab valley, the Congress goes into Tuesday’s polls after having chosen to highlight the work done during Ghulam Nabi Azad’s 2006-08 regime rather than that during the outgoing Congress-NC coalition.
Six of the 15 seats voting in the first phase are in Chenab valley. The Congress holds five — Bhaderwah, Doda, Inderwal, Ramban and Banihal — while the NC holds Kishtwar, with the BJP the primary challenger in all six.
Throughout the campaign, the Congress kept reminding people of the two-and-a-half years when Azad headed a Congress-PDP coalition. “Development became a realisable goal during the tenure of Congress party in the state between 2006-08,” says Azad, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha and chairman of the Congress’s J&K campaign committee. That government fell when the PDP pulled out following the Amarnath land row.
Local Congress leaders have been pointing out how Azad introduced work in double and even triple shifts to accelerate the pace of projects, and how he created four new districts each in Jammu and Kashmir. Projects on Azad’s report card include Asia’s largest tulip garden in Kashmir, a super-specialty hospital in Jammu, Haj houses in Jammu and Srinagar, a university campus in Bhaderwah and the completion of the Pul Doda-Bhaderwah road, besides various tourist circuits.
Behind the Congress decision to promote the shorter, older regime rather than the longer, recent one is a perception of resentment against the Omar Abdullah government. The main promises not fulfilled are empowerment of panchayats with the 73rd amendment to the Constitution, and subsidised rations to the poor through the Food Security Act. Both were 2008 poll promises. State Congress president Prof Saifuddin Soz recently attributed their non-fulfilment to compulsions of coalition politics.
During a visit to Gandoh, Azad found voters telling him they would not support Congress candidate Mohammad Sharief Niaz in Bhaderwah. He managed to persuade them; the following day, thousands accompanied Niaz when he went to file his nomination.
Abdul Majid Wani, outgoing minister, accused the NC of delaying creation of new administrative units, especially in backward areas of Doda. He added the policies of NC minister Abdul Rahim Rather (finance) were anti-employment and anti-youth.