Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday gave a teary-eyed farewell to Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad ,Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
“We have been very close, there has not been an occasion when we have not been in touch,” he said.
Mr. Modi choked as he recalled a terror attack when Mr. Azad was the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and eight tourists from Gujarat were killed.
“Terrorists attacked and eight people of Gujarat were killed. The first call I received was from Ghulam Nabi ji . That call was not only to inform me of the incident, but one of concern, like a family member. His tears were not stopping on the phone. That time, Pranab Mukherjee was the Defence Minister. I asked if an aircraft could be provided to get the bodies back home. Mukherjee saab ensured that it was provided. Ghulam Nabi ji called again in the night, he was at the airport,” the Prime Minister reminisced, trying to stop his tears.
Farewell to 3 others
Other than Mr. Azad, three other members- Meer Mohammad Fayaz and Nazir Ahmad Laway, both from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP’s Shamsher Singh Manhas were bid farewell. With their tenures getting over, the newly created Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will not have a single representation in the Upper House.
“Not a single session has gone by when Mir Mohammad and Nazir Ahmed have not discussed issues with me in my chamber. Sometimes, they came with their families. The kind of information and insight they provided was unique, their commitment and ability will be useful for the country and to J&K,” he said.
Mr. Modi noted that he had known Mr. Shamsher Singh for decades. “I do not even remember the years now, we have travelled together on a scooter. Shamsher was among the people who were jailed young during the Emergency. His attendance in Rajya Sabha is 96%,” he observed.
“History has taken a turn and the four Members of Jammu and Kashmir were a part of it,” he said.
‘He can’t be replaced’
“I am worried, how can one match Ghulam Nabi Azad’s stature after he is replaced. Not only was he concerned about his party but also the country. During the early days of COVID-19, I met the floor leaders, Ghulam Nabi ji called and suggested that I should meet all the party leaders. I followed his advice. He has had experience of both the ruling and the Opposition side,” he pointed out.
“Years ago, when I came to Parliament for some work, I was not active in electoral politics then. We were chatting in the lobby. Journalists got curious. Ghulam Nabi ji gave an apt reply: ‘you may have seen us fighting on TV and streets but in this complex we are all one.’ You may not know this, but the garden in his bungalow will remind you of the Kashmir Valley. Whenever a competition is held, his bungalow is number one,” he recalled.
“As a friend, I respect him as a tall leader. His desire to work for this country will never let him sit idle. Whatever responsibility he is given, he will add value to it. I thank him for his contributions. Personally, I would request that he never think that he is not a Member of the House. My doors are open for all four of you to come and give suggestions to me,” he added.
Sharad Pawar of the NCP said, “These four members have always wished well for Jammu and Kashmir. My association with Azad goes back a long way. He is an organisational man. He started his career with the Congress ideology. His work was noticed and he was made in charge of the Indian Youth Congress. We were his seniors and used to observe how he organised the youth. Year 1982 was a memorable year of his life. He got married that year and stood for elections from the most backward district in Maharashtra then. I was in the Opposition then and told people that someone from Kashmir is fighting elections from here. We held public meetings against him, but he won with a huge margin.”
Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi party said, “I can’t say much after an emotional speech by the Prime Minister. I am worried, who, in his absence, will mediate when a deadlock happens. Azad acted as a bridge. Who will be his alternative now? He guided all members in a gentle way. The kind of vacuum we felt after the death of Arun ji , the same will be felt. I hope he is brought back to the House. I would like to request the Prime Minister to restore Statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and let him return as its chief minister.”
Mr. Azad, in an emotional speech, bid the Rajya Sabha goodbye, for what could be his very last term in the House, with the Congress unlikely to renominate him.
Mr. Azad emphasised that he is a proud Indian. He recalled that during his college days in Kashmir, where both August 14 and 15 were celebrated, he was among the minority who participated in the Indian Independence Day celebrations. “Of course, after the Independence Day celebrations, I would not return to college for a week, fearing reprisal from my fellow students,” he said.
Mr. 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.
Word of caution
At the same time, he sounded a word of caution for the majority community, asking them to be two steps ahead in maintaining peace. He asserted that during his tenure as Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, he never differentiated between anyone on the basis of “religion, community or even party”.
There were only a few instances, he said, when he cried out loud in the open and these were when Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi died. Referring to the incident of massacre of Gujarati pilgrims, qouted earlier by Mr. Modi, he said it was another such incident when he couldn’t hold back his tears. “I had just taken over as Chief Minister, the militants wanted to make their presence felt. When I reached the site of the massacre, children who should have been in arms of their parents, wrapped their little hands around me crying for help. It was heart-rending and I cried out loud,” he tearfully said.