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‘Lucky mascot’ lives up to name

New Delhi, Oct. 10: Today’s “man of the match” was about to retire hurt six months ago when Sonia Gandhi suddenly appointed him chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress.

Ghulam Nabi Azad had sulked for days, refusing to assume charge till Sonia summoned him. “You are a lucky mascot,” the Congress president told him. “I am confident that under your guidance, the Congress would do well in Jammu and Kashmir. You know the state very well. I have full faith in you and in case you wish to, come back after polls to Delhi.”

Azad was not amused. Yes, lucky mascot he was. As AICC general secretary, he had done exceedingly well in all states except Uttar Pradesh.

In Karnataka, he got every faction leader together to ensure a landslide victory. Kerala followed. Uttaranchal was won.

As for Kashmir, he revealed to Sonia how successive Congress regimes had promoted the Abdullahs at the expense of the party. It was all in the guise of “national interest” that the National Conference was allowed to stay in power, he said.

Sonia said she was impressed by Azad’s knowledge and grip over Kashmir politics. The AICC chief assured him that past mistakes will not be repeated and the Congress would launch a no-holds-barred attack on chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

Azad was apprehensive about his security. He pointed out that his wife had even asked him to retire from politics. Sonia said she would take up the matter with the Prime Minister. “Do not talk about retirement. You may be the chief minister of the state,” she told him half-jokingly.

However, Azad, who took pride in mastering palace intrigue, could not get over the fact that he had become a victim of it. He alleged that some colleagues had a role in sending him on the “punishing assignment” as chief of the Kashmir unit. But Sonia rubbished the idea, saying it was her decision that a stint in the “field” would do him good.

Azad has been AICC general secretary in charge of almost all states. Such is his influence at the party headquarters that when he was removed as AICC general secretary, nobody could remove his nameplate or sit in the room once allotted to him despite the paucity of rooms.

The nameplate is still there, reminding everyone that “Azad sahib” would soon be back.

Today, Azad’s supporters were distributing ladoos at the party headquarters. “Would you still describe him as a rootless wonder'” asked one. “Has he not proved himself in his home state'”

For once, there was silent approval.

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