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Goodbye Ghulam Nabi Azad — why Congress stayed silent when Modi cried, opponents praised him

Ghulam Nabi Azad held many important posts in Congress and its governments, but neither party nor Rahul Gandhi said anything on his retirement.

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New Delhi: Ghulam Nabi Azad’s last day in the Rajya Sabha Tuesday turned out to be highly eventful.

A teary-eyed Prime Minister Narendra Modi bid a surprisingly emotional farewell to the Congress leader from Kashmir, saying “my doors are always open for you” as he held back tears.

Then, Azad himself gave a non-partisan, statesman-like speech where he hailed several leaders, from Indira Gandhi to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It provided a stark contrast to his fiery and evocative speech after the Modi government scrapped J&K’s special status under Article 370 in 2019, in which he had accused the BJP of “murdering the Constitution”.

Tuesday’s 30-minute-long farewell speech, in which Azad recounted his almost five-decade-long political journey, gave the sense that there is no chance of him being re-elected to the Rajya Sabha. The Congress hasn’t yet officially dismissed the possibility, but ever since Mallikarjun Kharge, former leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, became a Rajya Sabha member, it has been widely expected that he will take over as leader of the opposition in the Upper House from Azad.

But the tensions that exist between the senior leader and his party were apparent in how the Congress reacted — or didn’t react — on his retirement, even though opponents praised him to the sky. While BJP’s general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh and other NDA leaders praised Azad for his speech, the Congress largely kept quiet. Only late Tuesday evening did the party tweet two snippets of his speech, and one quoting from fellow senior leader Anand Sharma’s speech, calling it an emotional moment.

Also read: Proud to be a Hindustani Muslim, says teary Ghulam Nabi Azad as Rajya Sabha tenure ends

Statements against party & high command

A Gandhi family loyalist, Ghulam Nabi Azad began his political career in 1973 as a member of the Youth Congress, and was spotted by Indira Gandhi, who took a liking to his “simple and straightforward personality”, party leaders said.

“Naturally, when Rajiv Gandhi came to the fore, he deemed it important to continue giving Azad the respect and importance that his mother did. Since then, Azad has mostly been seen as a committed party loyalist, until at least recently,” a Congress leader said.

This leader was hinting at the fact that Azad was one of the group of 23 senior leaders who wrote to interim chief Sonia Gandhi in August last year, demanding changes in the Congress organisation, including internal elections from the block and district levels to the central level.

These leaders have been given the unofficial moniker ‘G23’, and Azad has been one of the group’s most vocal members, making multiple statements against the Congress and its leaders in the recent past.

At the CWC meeting following the letter, the Gandhi family, as well as other members such as Ambika Soni, had lashed out at Azad, in effect cornering the leader for his “betrayal”.

Soon, a video of Azad from 2018 resurfaced, earning him brickbats for his “hypocrisy”. At the 84th AICC plenary session at the Talkatora Stadium in the national capital, Azad had moved a proposal to authorise the Congress president to nominate members to the CWC, that was eventually passed

But none of this backlash stopped Azad from continuing to speak against the party after the letter. He went on to accuse it of having a ‘five-star culture’, and cited that as the reason for the Congress’ losing streak.

“The problem with our leaders is that if they get a party ticket, they first book a five-star hotel. Even there, they want a deluxe place. Then they will not move without an air-conditioned car. They will not go to places where there is an untarred road,” he said.

Congress leaders said Azad’s “flip-flops” upset the party high command. “He is a very senior and respected leader, but to say such things after decades and decades of benefitting from closeness to the Gandhi family… it was of course disappointing,” a party leader said.

Also read: Ghulam Nabi Azad loses general secretary post in Congress reshuffle weeks after letter row

Impact of ‘G23’ tag on farewell

Azad’s statements had shocked many because of his successful Congress career, having held a slew of important positions in the party and government. Azad has the distinction of being general secretary in-charge of all states at various points of time, and has been a member of the all-important CWC for over 18 years. He is also a two-time Union minister and a served as J&K CM too.

However, the sourness between the leader and the party since the ‘G23’ letter was noticeable in Azad’s speech too — he acknowledged he entered the party because of Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi and mentioned many Congress stalwarts, but not Rahul Gandhi.

At least three of the many leaders ThePrint approached for a comment on Azad’s emotional speech refused to say anything. “You should ask Modi,” said a senior Congress leader from Kashmir who did not wish to be named, making it clear that the PM’s praise of Azad had not gone down well with many Gandhi family loyalists who were already upset with him for being a part of the ‘G23’.

However, at least two other leaders of the group — Anand Sharma and Shashi Tharoor — showered praise on Azad, with the latter even saying he hopes Azad returns to the Upper House.

Also read: UP Congress leader asks for expulsion of Ghulam Nabi Azad over Sonia Gandhi letter row

‘Hindu colleagues afraid to call me for campaigning’

In his farewell speech Tuesday, Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke of being a ‘Hindustani Muslim’, and how he is fortunate to never have visited Pakistan.

“I am among those fortunate people who never went to Pakistan. When I read about circumstances in Pakistan, I feel proud to be a Hindustani Muslim… If any Muslim should feel proud in the world, it should be the Indian Muslim,” Azad said.

However, just over two years ago, in 2018, Azad had spoken about the change in the demeanour of his Hindu colleagues in the Congress towards him. He had bemoaned that there had been a drastic reduction in the number of Hindu candidates who invited him for election campaigning, claiming that people were “afraid”.

“Since the days of the Youth Congress, I have been campaigning across the country from Andaman to Lakshadweep, and 95 per cent of those who used to call me were Hindu brothers and leaders, and just 5 per cent were Muslim brothers. But in the last four years, I have observed that the figure of 95 has dropped to just 20 per cent,” Azad had said at an Aligarh Muslim University event.

Several members of the Congress had then lashed out at Azad, saying religion doesn’t play a role in choosing campaigners.

Also read: Why Congress leaders are raising funds to build Ram Temple & why it may not help the party

Chief ministerial stint

Before his Rajya Sabha stint, Azad was a two-time Lok Sabha MP and was made the minister for parliamentary affairs in UPA-1. But he quit the role in 2005 to become J&K CM — the Congress’ first there in over 30 years since Syed Mir Qasim.

Ghulam Nabi Monga, vice-president of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress, said he has known Azad closely since the two were together in the Youth Congress in the 1970s, and knows him to be “a man of integrity”.

“The three years he served as the J&K CM are still remembered by people here very fondly. He tried to give the Congress strength in the Valley when we didn’t have much following,” Monga told ThePrint.

“He tried to lead the party in a way all of us can learn from, and never used any foul language against any opponent, which is why today we see the camaraderie (from other parties),” he added.

Azad’s chief ministerial stint wasn’t uneventful — in 2008, he had to resign from the post after coalition ally PDP withdrew support over the Amarnath land controversy. The central government and the J&K government had, at the time, reached an agreement to allot 99 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) in the Valley for Hindu pilgrims. However, this had stirred up massive protests in the Valley, eventually forcing the revocation of the land transfer.

In his speech, Modi recalled a time when he was the CM of Gujarat and Azad was his J&K counterpart, and a terror attack took place in the northern state in which some people from the western state were killed.

“The first call I received was from Ghulam Nabiji. The call was not just to inform me of the incident, but he couldn’t stop his tears on the phone. They were tears of concern, like a family member,” the PM recalled.

Azad also spoke about his home region in the Rajya Sabha just a day before his retirement, urging the Modi government Monday to not make “Kashmir a guinea pig for experiments”. He also demanded that statehood be restored to J&K, and assembly elections be conducted.

‘Irreplaceable as leader of opposition’

Ghulam Nabi Azad became leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha in 2014, taking on a role that was expected to be difficult, despite the Congress and its allies still holding a majority in the Upper House. The party’s numbers only dwindled since then, making his task tougher.

Akhilesh Prasad Singh, another Congress Rajya Sabha member, said in a party which has an image of leaders not interacting with each other much, Azad had been very forthcoming as the leader of the opposition.

“I remember once I had listed some questions to ask to the defence minister, and (Azad) came to me by himself and told me more things that I can incorporate. Members might forget a speech they made, but he remembers every single thing,” Singh said, adding that he believes Azad will be “irreplaceable” as the leader of the opposition.

Also read: Congress says it will have elected president by June ‘at any cost’ after stormy CWC meet


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  1. ghulam nabi is one of the coward leader of jammu and kashmir.He was afraid if he protest against 5th august 2019 move he would be behind the bars like Abdullah, so he remained neutral.He is not a representative of jammu and kashmir ,he won one or two election in jk thats it.Many a times he won election outside jk on congress ticket.Today where he is now is just because of congress.Congress had never get any benefit from him , even his own kashmiri public rejected his leadership long back .So what is the fun of carrying him this long way…Today he was praising bjp just to get a post retirement benefits like vice president or lok sabha speaker.he was elected as rajya sabha mp from jk multiple times by congress..Surprisingly he won only once as a lok sabha mp this clearly shows that he never had people mandate…

  2. Seems like a really nice leader and a good human being, this tribe is dwindling in Congress. Everyone who isn’t reverential to la famiglia will be booted out.

  3. That duffer Pappu walked out during the Hon’ble PM’s speech in LokSabha.
    Moron should have stayed and listened and learned something from the great man.

  4. The fact that Modi shed tears for him is enough for Congress (and the liberal/secular cabal) to ostracize Mr. Azad.
    Also, “some people from the western state were killed” is not how you write about victims of terrorist attacks. Seems rather disparaging and insensitive.

  5. At least show some respect for a loyal gentleman who served your party faithfully for over 45 years.
    The Congress has fallen so low ………

  6. Why Congress stayed silent when Modi cried, opponents praised him ??.. Answer is very much simple. In Congress Party –every person is — DISPOSABLE — , EXCEPT born in a particular FAMILY. ( Q.E. D. ) This may be known to every body in India who even reads a vernacular news paper . Why the Journalist of such a high stature who writes for The Print tries to show ignorance of fundamental truth of political culture of Congress party ??? Pleas grow up . No one will take you seriously as a dependable writer with this level of exposure of your knowledge of apparent psychology of Congressmen/women.
    Second part of answer. Modi means business . Wait.

  7. The optics look so good that it’s amnesiac.

    However I would like to remind every Indian that ghulam Nabi azad was responsible for implementing sharia in a secular nation.

    Out of several steps taken by fundamentalist jihadi politicians of the valley, implementing sharia was brought in to establish nizame mustafa in the state.

    Here sitting in parliament he was preaching secularism tolerance and democracy. Not a people leader but hoisted because being coterie comes bigger responsibilities.

    Current theprint fraternity was among mute spectators that these nation breaking policies unquestionably set in motion.

    Here we are doing rona gaana for an individual who strengthened the breaking India forces unabashedly.

  8. This is what i always felt and have also shared among my friends and family…..that there could be and will be political differences between Hindus and Muslims in India…. as it should and will be in a Democracy….. but they are not enemies of each other…. the relation between Azadji & the PM is only one of the many examples that exist in politics as well as in real life…..

  9. GNB had / has more to offer to India! I Travelled with him in economy class some time in the late 1990s. We talked for about 20 minutes. Political leaders like GNB, always willing and capable to discuss (especially in Parliament), are a rae breed these days! Sad.
    To quote from the above article… “Then, Azad himself gave a non-partisan, statesman-like speech where he hailed several leaders, from Indira Gandhi to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It provided a stark contrast to his fiery evocative speech after the Modi government scrapped J&K’s special status under Article 370 in 2019, in which he had accused the BJP of “murdering the Constitution”.
    Is it a good practice to always dissect every word a politician speaks in his life time and highlight contradictions perceived and true. This approach serves no useful purpose especially in our culture, and also seen the world over, where change is the only constant. More so in politics anywhere.
    Politics is a muddles game anywhere and especially in a Federal Nation such as India where there are tens of 100s of political parties and contradicting coalitions in different parts of the country.
    Appeal to media: Please discuss issues and policies etc. more than politics and politicians. (This here is special, I understand)
    Tail piece: Governments in the states and the Centre are also doing good in many areas. Highlighting the good work, by the media and the opposition will only bolster a spirit to help the Nation make progress rather than be labelled a laggard democracy.

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