Shujaat Bukhari

Azad and Soz factions are on the job

Most Congress Ministers are putting up big shows in favour of Azad

Only two Ministers have publicly supported Soz.

SRINAGAR: When a news agency put out the flash that Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee chief Saifuddin Soz has been relieved of his post and was being tipped to be Goa Governor, it created ripples in political circles for a while. But the “news” turned out to be the fallout of infighting in the party.

Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithvi Raj Chauhan air dashed to Jammu on Monday to attend the Congress’ foundation day function along with Professor Soz to put to rest speculations that there was any move to replace him.

“It is authenticating Professor Soz’s official position,” said a Congress leader.

Rousing reception

On Saturday, a day after local news agency CNS put out the “sensational” news about his ouster, Professor Soz was accorded a rousing reception in Jammu. Commenting on the news, he said “it is the handiwork of some disgruntled elements in the party and they will be taken care of.”

He was apparently referring to the lobby headed by his arch rival and Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad within the PCC.

A few months back, both were engaged in a spat in newspapers, accusing each other of “incompetence.” However, it ended after the central leadership of the party intervened.

But in the past few weeks, the infighting has become more pronounced, with most of the Congress Ministers in the coalition government putting up big shows in favour of Mr. Azad.

Only two Ministers, Raman Bhalla and R.S. Chib, publicly supported Professor Soz. Sham Lal Sharma showed up for some time at the reception on Saturday.

Separate rallies

Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, R&B Minister G.M. Saroori and Cooperative Minister Manohar Lal have publicly defied the PCC chief. On the death and birth anniversaries of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, they organised separate rallies. But Ministers Taj Mohiuddin, Rigzin Jora and Aijaz Khan are playing it safe.

The former PCC chief and influential Gujjar leader, Chowdhary Mohammad Aslam, is also in the Azad camp after he was denied a Cabinet berth.

There are many other leaders who openly swear allegiance to Mr. Azad. “Mr Azad is the acceptable leader in Jammu and Kashmir,” said a senior PCC functionary. This infighting has, however, affected the party and the working of the government in the State.

PCC spokesman Ravinder Sharma, who belongs to the Soz camp, says there are a few elements out to destabilise the party. “But they have been rebuffed by the central leadership.” He was perhaps referring to a statement from an AICC functionary that there was no question of any change in leadership.

A local newspaper quoted the functionary as saying that the current state of affairs in the State being what it is, it was not possible to send Professor Soz into political oblivion.

A few months ago, the AICC warned the dissidents to fall in line or face disciplinary action and they had preferred to lie low for a while.

However, the factional differences have appeared stronger in the past few weeks.