Former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has deliberately decided not to contest the forthcoming state assembly elections. His name didn't figure in the list of candidates announced for the 15 constituencies, including Bhaderwah, which go to polls in the first phase on November 25.
His cousin Niaz Sharief has been given ticket. The Congress is banking on Azad, who is also leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. He is the face of the party, having pan-state image, more so in the Jammu region.
The strategy is to keep Azad free from being confined to one constituency, as it will take much of his campaign time. He had hinted for campaigning rather than contesting about two months back.
Though he lost to BJP candidate Dr Jatindera Singh, considered a political greenhorn by a margin of about 60,000 votes, he had led in nine out of the 17 assembly constituencies in the Udhampur-Doda parliamentary constituency.
He was the first-ever chief minister of the state from the Jammu region, which nurtures a sense of discrimination at the hands of numerically advantageous Kashmir region. Though he is a Muslim, his being a CM soothed the perceived or real sense of discrimination in the Hindu majority Jammu region.
And his religious identity helped him get easily connected with the Kashmir region, inhabited by nearly 100% Muslims.
Azad has been critical of separatists and terrorists but continues to have takers in the Kashmir region and in the Muslim areas of the Jammu region.
Even the rightists don't point out a finger on his liberal and secular credentials and his political opponents admire development activities undertaken by him as a chief minister.
The Congress has been primarily banking on him. In 2008, it lost primarily because of the communal polarisation after the Amarnath Land row and in the 2014 parliamentary elections, it was Modi wave all the way.
Though he was a star campaigner in both the elections and couldn't succeed, he still has the potential to change the political narrative. And, that is why the party is primarily banking on.
He is certainly the chief ministerial candidate if Congress becomes a part of the government.
In 2005, when the Congress got the post of chief minister after three-year tenure of the then chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was over, as per the agreement for rotation of CM's post, Azad was elected in the 2006 by-election from Bhaderwah. Incidentally, Sharief had vacated the seat for him then.