Monday, March 1, 2021
 
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Momentous farewell to veteran parliamentarian


K N Pandita


Rajya Sabha or the Upper House of the Parliament witnessed an unprecedented event of momentous farewell given to Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the opposition (Cong), 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 a 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, cleared many misunderstandings from the minds of the members present in the house and the millions of countrymen watching the deliberations.
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 when 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 paying tribute to Azad for his 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 respect and with affection. As some of these reminiscences referred to the tragic events of the past, the Prime Minister was swayed by emotions and as a human being, he could not help stop tears rolling down. He said that Azad was an institution by himself and the country will always feel proud of the contribution he has made in various capacities.
In response, Azad was as much overtaken by emotion as the PM was. He said he had seen five Prime Ministers and four Presidents. He minced no words in 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 that was the best part of his service to the nation. He did speak about the great misfortune that has befallen the Pandit community of Kashmir though 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 leave aside pleading for their cause. Perhaps he had to go by the command of the Congress High Command.
While these courtesies were exchanged between the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition, who, in the phraseology of political science is considered the shadow prime minister, another aspect of Ghulam Nabi Azad’s career was coming to light layer after layer. For about a year or more, Azad was not 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 remained extraordinarily faithful to Indian’s powerful ruling house. Perhaps the rumblings within the Congress created by the youthful aspirants resulting in the pick and choose policy by the High Command that overlooked the merits and other criteria could have disappointed Azad and more than a dozen like-minded co-workers in the upper echelons of Congress. This had culminated in a letter written by 22 senior Congressmen including Azad wrote to the Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
It is also true that 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 areas.
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 needed to be given special treatment. Perhaps he feels insulted and let down.
About two months ago, newspapers reported Azad’s exclusive meeting with Prime Minister Modi. Nobody knows what transpired between them. Any disinterested person would infer that this could be a courtesy meeting between the two leaders who have a long association between themselves. 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 opinion who have in privately expressed disgust with some senior Congress leaders listing of Congress’ wrong thinking and wrong-doings.
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 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 chowkidar chor hai” to disgrace 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 Saifu’d-Din Soz has been vociferous about criticizing NDA administration and toeing the line of Kashmir separatists and hardliners, something that suits the Congress High Command.
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 and Co declaring their non-cooperation with the Commission. Nevertheless, delimitation will be carried out to be followed by-elections in the UT. Azad has his constituency through 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.


(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University)




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