With Vikar Rasool Wani as its new J&K president and Raman Bhalla as working president, the Congress high command has picked two leaders who have considerable hold within their own Assembly constituencies, both in Jammu, but not across the Union Territory.
A former minister of state and two-time MLA from Banihal Assembly constituency of Chenab Valley region, who is considered a loyalist of senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Wani has had a meteoric rise in politics. The son of MLC Ghulam Rasool Wani, who died in a car accident near Qazigund in Kashmir, he joined active politics only in 1998. He became the block president of the Congress in 2003, the Youth Congress state president in 2004, the president of the Banihal Municipal Committee the next year, and contested and won his first Assembly election in 2008.
The very next year, Wani was named All India Youth Congress general secretary, and was thereafter inducted into the government as MoS in January 2013-14.
In the 2014 Assembly elections, he was one of the two Congress MLAs who managed to retain their seats in the Chenab Valley region, with the BJP winning the remaining four. The other Congress legislator who won was G M Saroori, also an Azad loyalist.
Raman Bhalla, the new working president, has a considerable following within his own Gandhi Nagar seat in Jammu city, but far from having a pan-J&K acceptance, is not seen as having a say even within his own organisation.
A law graduate from Jammu University, he was active in student politics before joining the Congress. He became the block president of the Youth Congress in 1979, and won as MLA for the first time from Gandhi Nagar in 2002. He then became an MoS in the then PDP-Congress coalition government.
In the 2008 Assembly elections, Bhalla retained his seat despite the strong anti-Congress sentiments following the Amarnath land row, which earned him a seat in the Omar Abdullah-led National Conference-Congress coalition government.
However, in 2014, he was among the Congress candidates who lost to the BJP.
Both Wani and Bhalla are no stranger to controversies. In the 2015 Rajya Sabha elections, Wani was believed to have been part of the group of Congress MLAs who wrote to then Independent MLA Engineer Rasheed regretting that they had not supported his demand to return the body of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru to his family after his hanging in Tihar jail – in a bid to ensure a win for Azad.
The latter had gone on to defeat the BJP’s Chander Mohan Sharma by one vote, presumably Rasheed’s. The Independent MLA had told mediapersons at the same time about the letter.
Bhalla has faced charges of owning disproportionate assets. Under him as Revenue Minister, officials had issued documents certifying Dogras as ethnic tribe community, with relaxation in physical measurements for recruitment to armed and security forces. Following widespread criticism at the move as dividing the state further on communal lines, the government had revoked the order in 2011.