Is Ghulam Nabi Azad Congress' lucky charm?
He ran out of luck when it mattered the most for him, but many in the Congress party still regard him as a "lucky charm".
Ghulam Nabi Azad, 55, is credited with leading the Congress to power in six of the eight states where he was given charge of the election campaign in the last five years.
Now he is the party's trusted point man in Andhra Pradesh, where the Congress is engaged in a now-or-never battle with the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
Azad is the architect of the Congress victories in the assembly elections in Karnataka and Maharashtra (in 1999), Kerala and Pondicherry (in 2001) as well as Uttaranchal and Jammu and Kashmir (in 2002).
It was also the tough negotiating skills of Azad that enabled the Congress to clinch an alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in Andhra Pradesh, a development that has unnerved the TDP.
No wonder then that Congress activists in Tamil Nadu, where the party has not tasted power since 1967, want him to be named in charge of the election campaign in the state for the assembly elections due in 2006.
But for all his successes, the 55-year-old - a post-graduate in zoology from Jammu failed to become chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir when everyone thought the job was virtually in his pocket.
As the Congress' Jammu and Kashmir unit chief, he led the party to a spectacular revival in the September-October 2002 assembly elections helping it win 20 of the 87 seats in a badly fractured verdict.
As Congress president Sonia Gandhi congratulated Azad, the man was beaming, confident that he would be named chief minister at the head of a coalition government.
But that was not to be. The job went to Mufti Mohammed Sayeed of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) although it had won only 16 seats. Azad has not forgotten the day he was passed over.
However the man took Sonia Gandhi's decision sportingly and was promptly sent off to Andhra Pradesh to chalk out a winning strategy for the Congress, which has been out of power in the state since 1994.
Naturally, Azad is one of the most sought out Congress leaders in other states too.
His supporters have built a 'rath', or so-called chariot, for him at a cost of Rs 1 million in Tamil Nadu. But it is now being used in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
"Most of us feel that his presence will turn around our fortunes," a Congress leader from Tamil Nadu said.
The leader, who did want to be named, said there were Congress leaders in Tamil Nadu who did not approve of present party in-charge Kamal Nath, who is considered a 'soft' man.
Born in 1949 in Jammu, Azad took to politics in 1973 as block president of the Congress in the state. In 1975 he was named chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Youth Congress.
He was elected to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, in 1980 from Washim in Maharashtra and named a minister by then prime minister Indira Gandhi. He won in 1984 too and became a member of the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet too. He also served as a Rajya Sabha member during the rule of prime minister PV Narasimha Rao.
In 1996, he was named a general secretary of the party and the next year became a member of the decision-making Congress Working Committee.
It is not as if everything is going well for Azad. In Andhra Pradesh, there is still dissidence in the party, and the Congress-TRS alliance is not without its share of glitches.
In the last five years, the only two places Azad failed to work his magic were Tamil Nadu (2001) and Uttar Pradesh (2002), a record unmatched even by his high-flying peers within the party or even in the rival camp.
Ambika Soni, another Congress leader, had paid a tribute to Azad after the party stormed to power in Karnataka in 1999. "Azad has laid a solid foundation, we only need to consolidate it," she said.
The upcoming elections in Andhra Pradesh will again put to test the organisational and electioneering skills of the father of two.