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Ghulam Nabi Azad’s road to resignation from Congress

BySaubhadra ChatterjiSaubhadra Chatterji
Aug 27, 2022 02:04 PM IST

Former Union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad resigned from the Congress on Friday with a scathing letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi

There had been a growing distance between former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and the top leadership of the party for the past two years even though their separation officially took place on August 26.

In one instance of friction in 2019, Ghulam Nabi Azad returned to work, irking Rahul Gandhi, when the Congress continued protests in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. (PTI File Photo)
In one instance of friction in 2019, Ghulam Nabi Azad returned to work, irking Rahul Gandhi, when the Congress continued protests in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. (PTI File Photo)

The letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi by G23, a group of dissident leaders demanding organisational change, was dismissed with an unusually aggressive response at the Congress Working Committee meeting in August 2020. Azad, one of the four G23 leaders of the CWC at that time, was accused of mounting pressure on Sonia Gandhi when she was unwell and hospitalised. G23’s quest for reforms got overshadowed by questions over the rebels’ motivation and instead, the CWC issued a terse warning: “No one will be, or can be, permitted to undermine or weaken the party and its leadership at this juncture.”

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Also Read |Azad resigns, calls Rahul childish in scathing note

In 2021, when Azad’s term as the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha was coming close, the party made little efforts to accommodate him, a five term member of Parliament (MP). Congress leaders were given feedback that Azad was too “flexible” and in one of the sessions in 2019, when the Congress continued protests in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, he returned to work, irking Rahul Gandhi. “We wanted to bring a no-confidence motion. Our allies had agreed but Azad was hesitant to pursue it,” said a senior leader of the Congress.

Azad’s biggest support in the Congress central command was possibly Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. In one CWC meeting during the Covid-19 outbreak, Priyanka suggested that Azad, a former union health minister, should do a series of press conferences on the government’s handling of the disease.

Also Read | Who is in Rahul Gandhi’s ‘coterie that runs Congress’: Azad’s resignation letter

Prime Minister Modi’s emotional farewell to Azad in Rajya Sabha in 2021 didn’t enthuse the Congress. And when he got to retain his spacious bungalow in South Avenue Lane, the Congress leaders grew suspicious. On Friday, as the party fired salvoes against Azad, one of the tweets of Congress’ communications chief Jairam Ramesh said, “The person whom the Congress leadership respected the most, that person has shown his true character by making a personal attack on the Congress leadership. First Modi’s tears in Parliament, then Padma Vibhushan, then the extension of the house…It’s not a coincidence, it’s a collaboration!”

When Azad was conferred Padma Vibhushan in January this year, it divided the Congress. The party rebels and even former Congress members congratulated Azad and criticised the Congress. “Ghulam Nabi Azad conferred Padam Bhushan. Congratulations bhaijan. Ironic that the Congress doesn’t need his services when the nation recognises his contributions to public life,” Kapil Sibal, a former G23 member, tweeted. Anand Sharma, another key G23 leader, praised Azad for his “lifelong contribution to public service and Parliamentary democracy” and party MP Shashi Tharoor maintained it is good that Azad’s public service was recognised “by a government of the other side”.

But the party didn’t congratulate Azad. Ramesh, then the chief whip, posted a cryptic tweet. He congratulated former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharyya for refusing Padma award and added that Buddhadev wants to be “Azad, not Ghulam” (free, not servant).

Read: Congress's Digvijaya Singh stings Azad: ‘Which security guard of Rahul ji took…’

However, Sonia Gandhi still looked out for Azad for his counsel and their last meeting was perhaps on March 22, when Azad gave a detailed note on reforms in the party.

The recent reshuffle of Jammu & Kashmir Congress proved to be the last straw. Azad resigned as the campaign committee chairman in J&K and also member of the political affairs committee there last week while his close aides maintained that it was a demotion.

Congress leaders claimed that Sonia Gandhi had specifically asked for Azad’s suggestions on the changes and she picked one of the four candidates Azad proposed as the J&K party unit chief. Congress leaders also claimed that Azad had headed campaign committee in the past, and keeping that in mind, he was offered the post. Azad’s last major organisational role was the general secretary of Uttar Pradesh in 2016.

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