Momentous farewell to veteran parliamentarian Ghulam Nabi Azad

Congress politician Ghulam Nabi Azad
Congress politician Ghulam Nabi Azad

Rajya Sabha or the Upper House of the Indian Parliament witnessed an unprecedented event of momentous farewell given to Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the opposition (Congress), who along with his other three co-parliamentarians will be retiring after completing their tenure next week.

Bidding farewell to a retiring MP is a routine business in the parliament, and speakers from the treasury as well as the opposition benches show normal civility and courtesy to the retiring members so that they go home with sweet and enviable memories after serving the nation.

But the bidding of farewell to Azad, the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, especially by the Prime Minister was unprecedented. The way Azad’s career and contribution as a representative of the people were mentioned by the Prime Minister, reflected the nationalist credentials of the old Congress party and its outstanding leadership in the period immediately after the declaration of independence.

There was so much of civility, politeness and emotionalism on either side that one wondered whether this is the same auspicious place where the members of the ruling and opposition usually exchange angry and intimidating words while debating a motion or analyzing an issue. The solemn respect that flowed from each side makes one believe that notwithstanding all the acrimony and furiousness with which the halls resound during debates, there is one big and abiding concern that monitors the trend and that is of service to the nation.

While admiring Azad’s long parliamentary career and the vast and rich fund of experience he has gained, the Prime Minister, nostalgically reminisced several incidents that showed how he held Azad in deference. As some of these reminiscences referred to the tragic events of the past, the Prime Minister was swayed by emotions. As a human being, he could not help his eyes going wet. He said that Azad was an institution by himself and that he has a place in the political history of the country.

In response, Azad was as much swayed by emotion as the PM was. He said he had seen five Prime Ministers and four Presidents. He felt proud saying that he had played a crucial role in interacting with many political bigwigs in the country in resolving issues of national interests. He felt that was the best part of his service to the nation. He did speak, albeit miserly, about the big misfortune that has befallen the Pandit community of Kashmir notwithstanding that during his long tenure as Cabinet Minister in the Centre or Chief Minister of J&K or as MP and leader of the opposition he never uttered a single word to assuage the suffering of this hapless community.  

Not only that, faithfully carrying out the command of the Congress High Command of the day, he advised the then Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dixit not to give any privileges to the 230 qualified Kashmiri Pandit refugee girls who were “temporarily” engaged to fill the existing teaching vacancies in the Delhi State Education Department. These hapless refugee female teachers had to fight their case for more than a decade in a court of law in Delhi to seek justice. Notably, in a statement, Azad, after his government fell in J&K, said publicly that during his tenure of a year and half he had recruited nearly four lakh youth into government service in J&K. Well, not one among them was a Kashmiri Pandit.

While courtesies were exchanged between the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition, the proverbial shadow prime minister, another aspect of Ghulam Nabi Azad’s career was coming to light in the process. For about a year or two, Azad had not been enjoying a status of centrality in the coterie of Congress High Command. Nobody knows the precise reason but everybody knows that from day one he has remained infallibly faithful to the three generations of India’s powerful ruling house. Perhaps the rumblings within the Congress stirred by the youthful aspirants owing to the pick and choose policy of the High Command that overlooked the merits and other criteria, could have disappointed Azad besides more than a dozen like-minded co-workers in the upper echelons of Congress. This had culminated in a letter signed by 22 senior Congressmen including Azad to the Congress President.

The signatories of the said letter have been feeling that the Congress was drifting towards authoritarian culture and their sane voice was going unheard. They would want to link this phenomenon to the election results which did not show any improvement in the performance of Congress, particularly in rural India.

Azad knows that all signatories to the letter have fallen from grace. But his case is somewhat pitiable. His long and faithful adherence to the Nehru-Gandhi ruling house deserved fairness. Perhaps he feels insulted and let down. As a politician of old school Congress, he would never like the party stalwarts reduce the Congress culture to its nadir.

About two months ago, newspapers reported Azad’s exclusive meeting with Prime Minister Modi. Nobody knows what transpired between them. It could be a courtesy call by the leader of the opposition but there is more than what meets the eye. Azad had toned down his criticism of the NDA government and even lauded some of the measures it had taken. We are aware that within the opposition there are people of independent views who have in private expressed disgust with some senior Congress leaders’ listing of Congress’ wrong thinking and wrong-doings. But then in a democracy clash of ideas is not unknown.

We are aware that the Congress in concert with some Leftists and other opposition leaders in the parliament developed a culture of opposing each and everything NDA government proposed by way of improving the economic and social conditions of the masses of people. In disrupting the business of the house, in creating a ruckus, in making fabricated statements, in hurling muffled abuses on BJP and in distorting facts, Congress left no stone unturned. Its leader coined the obnoxious phrase of “chowkidar chor hai” only to humiliate the Prime Minister of India. No public leader worth his salt, belonging to any party, would descend to such depths. We are sure that Azad would never be a supporter of such perverted ideology. These things must have weighed heavy on his mind.

In the context of state assembly election 2015, Mufti Muhammad Saeed had categorically stated that the Chief Minister of the State has to be a Muslim and from the valley. In the coalition government which the Congress formed with PDP, the arrangement of sharing the tenure was agreed upon. Mufti Saeed completed his tenure of 3 years and then Azad was made the Congress Chief Minister of the alliance government. He had hardly completed a year when Mufti pulled the rug under his feet and the government fell. This incident shows how the mind of Kashmir–based leadership works. We have noted that during past one year or more, while Azad has been less seen and heard in television and radio, his counterweight Saifuddin Soz has been vociferous about criticizing NDA administration and toeing the line of Kashmir separatists and hardliners, something that suits the Congress High Command.

Ghulam Nabi Azad’s earlier meeting with Modi, the signing of a letter by senior 22 members of Congress and his silent distancing from the Congress camera are clear indications that he is uncomfortable with his position in the Congress. In the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, delimitation of constituencies is underway despite Farooq & Co. declaring their non-cooperation with the Commission. Nevertheless, delimitation will be carried out and will be followed by elections to the UT assembly. Azad has his constituency though the contest in the previous run-up to Rajya Sabha membership was neck to neck and he being hugely experienced in Indian electoral mechanism, managed to win the seat. A man of his experience, knowledge and manoeuvrability will be an asset to a nationalist government now in place in New Delhi. Prime Minister has already hinted at it. 

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