Jammu, 4 September, 2022: The stage is set for former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s new political chapter after he broke away from his five-decade-long association with the grand old party. As the leader reached Jammu on Sunday morning for his first rally after leaving Congress, he told the media that his ‘national-level’ party would be firstly focused on ‘upcoming J&K polls’.

The 73-year-old Azad, who had earlier ended his decades-old relationship with Congress, blamed ‘unfortunate circumstances’ behind his leaving the party. He also expressed hope in his aspirations for Jammu and Kashmir, saying it had long been his dream to make the region ‘happy’.

“From 2005 to 2008, I was the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. But some companions had left in the middle of my term, so my agenda could not be fulfilled at that time. We had an agenda to make a happy Jammu and Kashmir. Those who were with me in the cabinet at that time, all the experienced leaders and capable people, MLAs and ministers, they all came with us. And together we will fulfill that unfinished agenda,” a buoyant Azad told the media.

The road along the Jammu airport has been donning huge hoardings and banners welcoming Azad. At the main venue, seating arrangements have been made for over 20,000 people. “All those who resigned in support of Azad will be present at the public meeting,” GM Saroori, a former minister, said.

He also said that over 3,000 supporters of Azad, representing different sections of society, have expressed desire to join hands with him at the public meeting. “It is very difficult to manage such a large number of joining’s we have worked out a formula to make them raise their hands in support of Azad to welcome the new entrants,” he said.

He said people from different political parties are also in touch with them and “we are expecting a tsunami of support in favour of Azad in coming times.” “People have tested Azad during his chief ministership (from November 2005 to July 2008) and are eagerly waiting for his return as the next chief minister, he said. He said the Azad-led party would be a reality on the political map of Jammu and Kashmir ahead of the next Assembly elections which are likely to be held after the completion of the ongoing process of special summary revision of the electoral rolls on November 25.

Azad quit the Congress, a party he has been associated with for over five-decades on August 26, terming the party “comprehensively destroyed”. Since Azad’s resignation, a flurry of top leaders and executives have quit the party and vowed to extend their support to Azad. Former deputy chief minister, eight former ministers, a former MP, nine legislators besides a large number of Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) members, municipal corporators and grassroots workers from across Jammu and Kashmir have all jumped ship and joined the Azad camp.

Azad has been under severe criticism from the Congress after his pubic exit. Earlier this week, Azad took a swipe at Congress which had insinuated that he was cozying up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he left the party. Congress alleged that his “DNA has been Modi-fied” and several leaders attacked him citing Modi’s speech in Rajya Sabha in February last year in which the teary-eyed prime minister had praised Azad as a “true friend”.

Azad delivered a stern response to the remarks  saying,  meeting and talking to political rivals does not change one’s DNA.