Amid the Government-Opposition standoff in Parliament over the farm laws, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday bid a tearful farewell to Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad whose term ends next week.
Modi broke down several times during his 13-minute speech, as he recalled his close association with Azad. “At a personal level, I would request him to not consider that he is not in the House. My door is always open for all of you… I will always expect, and value, your views,” Modi said. “I will not let you retire,” he told the Congress veteran.
Azad also turned emotional during his response. He said the BJP has always been part of “Nationalist Politics”, and he felt “proud” that he was a “Hindustani Muslim”. While he did not mention the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, he sought to draw attention to the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. Addressing Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, Azad said: “Both of you are sitting here. Build the homes which were uprooted, we will all have to try for this”.
Earlier, speaking at the farewell for Azad and three other members from J&K — Nazir Ahmad Laway, Shamsher Singh Manhas and Mir Mohammad Fayaz – Modi said: “I worry that after Azad, whosoever will take over from him will have to fill very big boots, because he cared not only about his party but about the country, as well as the House.”
He noted that Azad had called him to ask for an all-party meeting on the Covid-19 situation last year. “I liked that, and also did it. This kind of connection is there because he has the experience of being in power as well as in the Opposition. Twenty-eight years experience in all, it is a big thing,” he said.
Recalling their long association, Modi said that as chief ministers of J&K and Gujarat, they had kept in touch with each other. He recalled a terror attack in J&K, when some Gujarati pilgrims were targeted. “Azad was the first person to call me. During that call he could not stop crying,” Modi said in a choked voice, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Power comes and goes but (only a few know) how to digest it… therefore, like a friend, I respect him on the basis of the things he has done over these years,” Modi said, while wiping his tears and saluting Azad.
In his response, Azad said that during his youth, both “August 14 and 15 were celebrated” in J&K. “When I was in SP College, the biggest college in Kashmir, I remember August 14 was celebrated, and August 15 was also celebrated. August 14, you know why it is celebrated. The majority was theirs… Of those that celebrated August 14. There was a very small minority, within dozens, which included me and my friends… On August 15, we used to stay around the staff and the principal. After that, for one week we wouldn’t go to college, because we would be beaten up. So, from there, we have come to the thought that we are all part of, and I am happy that that thought is now with many people,” he said.
“I want to congratulate the other parties there, whether it is the National Conference, the PDP… the BJP was always part of nationalist strain of politics,” he said.
“I am among the fortunate people who has never been to Pakistan. But when I read about the situation in Pakistan, I feel pride, I feel honour that we are Hindustani Muslims. In fact, I will say that if across the world, there should be any Muslim who is proud, he should be India’s Muslim. In the last 30-35 years, we have seen from Afghanistan to Iraq, how Muslim countries are finishing themselves by fighting. There is no Hindutva there, there are no Christians there who are fighting. They are fighting among themselves… But we can say with pride that among our Muslims, God willing, those bad things should never be there. But here, the majority community also has to take two steps forward,” Azad said.
Thanking Modi for attending the session, Azad turned emotional when recounting the terror attack that the PM had mentioned. He recalled five occasions when he broke down: during the deaths of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, the 1999 Odisha supercyclone, and the terror attack.
“In 2005, I became Chief Minister in November. In May (2006), when the durbar opened in Kashmir, I was welcomed with the martyrdom of my brothers and sisters from Gujarat… I talked to the Prime Minister, Defence Minister; an aircraft came to take them… When I reached the airport, (there were) children… some had lost their father, some their mother, they were crying,” he recalled.
Meanwhile, Ramdas Athawale, RPI leader and Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment who also spoke on the occasion, caused the House to erupt in laughter when he told Azad: “You should come to this House again. If the Congress does not bring you here, then we are ready to bring you… Even I was there, I came here…”
“Ghulam Nabi Azad acted as a bridge whenever there was a deadlock in the House… I wonder who will fill the gap… I hope he becomes the chief minister of J&K after its statehood is restored,” said Ram Gopal Yadav (SP).
“It was my fortune that I got to sit next to him in the House… I have learnt a lot from his guidance, decency, conduct…,” Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh said.
Satish Chandra Misra (BSP) said if the Congress wanted to bid farewell to Azad, people would bid farewell to the party, not him. “It is not easy to lose Ghulam Nabi Azad,” he said.
Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena) said he would not bid farewell, but would wait for Azad to return to the House. Sukhendu Sekhar Ray (TMC) also hoped that the Congress would bring Azad back to the House.
Azad’s term ends on February 15, after being Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha since June 8, 2014.