Despite his initial reluctance, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad will fight for the Udhampur Lok Sabha seat in Jammu and Kashmir and no one is happier over the decision than Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
Top sources told IANS that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had called Azad and discussed his nomination before the party announced its fourth list of Lok Sabha candidates Thursday.
Insiders told IANS that Azad's reluctance to contest from his home Lok Sabha constituency was primarily because he is aware of the polarization in the Jammu region after the communal riots in Kishtwar town last year.
Abdullah had earlier this week expressed concern over the delay in announcement of candidates for the three Lok Sabha seats the Congress is fighting in the Jammu region in alliance with the National Conference.
After Azad's name was announced, Abdullah looked a most relieved man. He said the decision to field Azad for Udhampur Lok Sabha seat is a shot in the arm for the state's ruling alliance.
He wrote on Twitter: "Excellent decision, just what we needed. Very pleased that the Congress has fielded Azad from Udhampur LS seat. Just what was needed to give the alliance shot in the arm in Jammu."
Azad belongs to Bhelessa village in Kishtwar district of the Jammu region.
Born in 1949, Azad started his political career from this village as the Block Congress president in the erstwhile Doda district from which the present Kishtwar district was carved out.
Azad's major challenger in Udhampur is Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Jitender Singh.
Abdullah has said there is no Modi wave in the Jammu region and the Congress-National Conference alliance would win all the six Lok Sabha seats in the state.
But polarization on religious lines has been clearly visible in the region after Modi's maiden rally in Jammu last year.
Still, among all the Congress candidates fielded in the state, which include Madan Lal Sharma from Jammu and Tsering Samphel from Ladakh, Azad has the strongest political influence especially in the Chenab Valley districts of Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban.
During his tenure as the state chief minister and also as the union health minister, Azad is seen to have done developmental work in the inaccessible hilly Chenab Valley region.