Senior Congress leader and decades-old Gandhi loyalist – Ghulam Nabi Azad delivered his farewell speech on the floor of the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, and pulled no punches. Being his last speech in the parliament, after an eventful career spanning over four decades, Azad portrayed himself as a bipartisan leader. Not only did he project himself as such, but the speeches and remarks of many BJP leaders, beginning with no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi left many political spectators and analysts surprised. The bonhomie between Azad and the Prime Minister was free-flowing, as both broke down while delivering their respective speeches yesterday.
Azad, whose term as Rajya Sabha member ends on February 15, has been a member of the upper house for 28 years. He was a member of Lok Sabha for 10 years and was Chief Minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir for three years. Ghulam Nabi Azad joined politics in 1973 as a member of the Youth Congress. Of late, however, the stalwart has lost favour with the Congress high command, which is to say, with the Gandhi family. It is for this very reason that the man is confident he will not be re-elected by the Congress to the Rajya Sabha.
Azad also said he was proud that he is an “Indian Muslim”. “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.” The Indian Muslim believed in peaceful existence unlike strife and war in Muslim nations, he said. With such statements, Azad effectively put to rest the Congress’ relentless “intolerance is on the rise” bogey. The remarks by Azad came in the backdrop of former Vice President Hamid Ansari declaring in his new book that Muslims felt insecure in India and that hyper-nationalism (of Hindus) was making India ‘intolerant’.
“There were times when we had verbal fights. But you [PM Modi] never took my words personally,” Ghulam Nabi Azad said. The Congress leader went on to remark that the country is run with collaborations, not fights – an understanding which he imbibed from former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Azad also made it clear that he might have said a lot of things, purely in obeyance of his party line. Effectively, Azad made it known that he is leaving the Rajya Sabha with no hard feelings, and that he made the remarks purely at the behest of the Congress and Gandhi family.
To the same effect, Ghulam Nabi Azad subtly indicated that parliamentarians should take a wise call and let parliament function smoothly after initial uproar. He said that fighting relentlessly will have no benefit for the country. According to him, the people had elected them to make laws, suggesting effectively that the parliament should be the last authority on legislative matters. This is being seen as a statement against the Congress’ brazen support for the misinformed farmers’ protests.
Earlier, PM Modi got emotional while bidding adieu to the senior Congress leader, reminiscing particularly of an incident when a terror attack occurred in 2006, in which Gujrati families became the victims. “Azad was the first person to call me. During that call he could not stop crying,” PM Modi said with a choked voice as tears rolled down from his eyes. The then CM of J&K went to the airport when the bodies were sent back and kept in touch till the plane landed in Gujarat.
Knowing very well that this was his last term as a Congress MP, Ghulam Nabi Azad cared little about keeping the Gandhi family happy. To add to the woes of the Congress, the bonhomie of Azad not just with PM Modi, but the praises and warm salutations he received from across the political spectrum served as an eyesore, as the ‘royal’ family was made to realise that the Congress is an empty shell without the majority of its non-family leaders. As a matter of fact, Azad’s problems with the Gandhis first surfaced last year, when the leader joined 22 other stalwarts of the party to demand real-time, constructive and foundational changes within the party, beginning with elections to the posts dominated by the family.
PM Modi referred to G23 yesterday. Today he got emotional while bidding Azad goodbye, and Azad in turn returned the favour by bursting the intolerance balloon.
Imagine being the Gandhi family today.
— Ajit Datta (@ajitdatta) February 9, 2021
Azad’s political career immediately took a hit, as he was removed as the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary and also discharged from the post of party in-charge of Haryana State. Relations have been cold ever since between the Gandhis and Azad, and Tuesday’s developments in the Rajya Sabha have reduced the mother-son-daughter trio to a bunch of sorry spectators.