Ghulam Nabi Next To Seek ‘Azadi’ from Congress?

Congress feels that Ghulam Nabi Azad wants to form his own party to become the third force in the Valley, and hence has become close with PM Narendra Modi.

Ghulam Nabi Azad
Ghulam Nabi Azad, a former J&K CM, has been sidelined by Congress leadership. (Photo: India Ahead Network)

FORMER West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee turned down the Padma Bhushan award, and opened a can of worms for the Congress. Welcoming Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s decision to decline India’s third highest civilian award, Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh tweeted, “Right thing to do. He wants to be Azad not Ghulam”

Jairam Ramesh’s tweet was an obvious dig at his party colleague Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has also been conferred with the award by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central Government.

The key point here is Azad’s apparent relation with his party’s top leadership in the last few years.

Azad is one of the prominent members of the Group of 23 Congress members who wrote a letter in August 2020 to party president Sonia Gandhi demanding sweeping changes. It was an unprecedented move, one which threw light on the fissures between the G23 members as they came to be called, and Gandhi family loyalists.

The Padma Bhushan award has done just that again.

Congress Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor and also one of the G23 members, however, tweeted: “Warm congratulations to Shri @ghulamnazad on his Padma Bhushan. It is good to be recognized for one’s public service even by a government of the other side”.

Another G23 member MP Kapil Sibal joined Tharoor in sending his best wishes to Azad. “GhulamNabi Azad conferred Padma Bhushan. Congratulations bhaijan. Ironic that the Congress doesn’t need his services when the nation recognises his contributions to public life,” he tweeted.

Sibal’s tweet was a direct attack on the Congress leadership as Azad had been removed from important party posts. The veteran leader was removed as All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in 2020 and then a year later in November 2021, he was also dropped from the party’s disciplinary action committee.

But in between the G23 letter and his being dropped from the disciplinary action committee, another important event took place in Azad’s life – he retired from the Rajya Sabha on February 15, 2021.

What surprised many during Azad’s farewell was the usual stern-faced Prime Minister Narendra Modi tear up as he recounted how Azad had reached out to him in 2006 after some Gujarati tourists were killed in a grenade attack in Srinagar.

Azad was then the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Congress leader, in turn, also spoke at length about the close relationship he shared with Modi. While he did thank former prime minister Indira Gandhi and late Congress leader Sanjay Gandhi, saying he reached his position only because of them, it was not lost on those listening, that Modi and he shared a good relationship.

Interestingly, when Azad was the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, he was part of the high-level committee (HLC) headed by PM Modi, who had cleared the appointment of BJP vice president Avinash Rai Khanna as member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

This appointment was vehemently opposed by the Congress and other political parties who had threatened to raise the matter in Parliament. Azad had maintained that they “were not told that he is the (BJP) vice-president.” Khanna, eventually did not take the post after the criticism.

 His future in Kashmir

As pointed out in a report by India Ahead  Congress feels that Azad wants to form his own party to become the third force in the Valley, and hence has become close with PM Modi. Experts believe that BJP is helping Azad become a strong political force in Jammu and Kashmir.

With BJP being essentially ineffective in Kashmir, their best bet would be Azad, a former chief minister of J&K if the party hopes to register a win against the two powerful political families – the Abdullah’s (National Conference leaders Farooq  and Omar Abdullah) and the Mufti’s (Peoples Democratic Party’s Mehbooba Mufti).

Azad’s future in Congress is also in question with his being side-lined and removed from the posts mentioned above. Several party members have publicly spoken out against Azad.

Take an example from March 2021 when Azad’s effigy was burnt by party workers in J&K who accused him of conspiring against the party at the behest of the BJP to weaken it for “personal gains”.

“GhulamNabi Azad praised Prime Minister NarendraModi who took our statehood and people like him are the reason for Congress being weak,” Aijaz Choudhary, the J&K Youth Congress Vice President, said.

Azad had lost in 2014 Lok Sabha elections to BJPs Jitendra Singh from Udhampur constituency.

His farewell speech had spoken at length about Kashmir. “I had said my government would be a government of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and if any minister worked on the basis of religion and party, I would be ashamed,” he had stated. 

He went on to pray that terrorism would end, and wished that things would get better in Kashmir. He also read out a poem dedicated to Kashmiri Pandits.

Azad, though, stayed clear of mentioning anything about the abrogation of Article 370 in the state of J&K and the bifurcation of the former state into two Union Territories – namely Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh. He had on August 5, 2019, said “BJP has murdered Constitution”.

However, in recent times many leaders who have been part of the top echelons of the Congress, have left the party to join other outfits for a brighter future. Whether Azad does the same for is an open ended question.