Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in tears in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday while bidding farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Congress leader who has often been the target of his barbs and attacks during debates in the House. Azad who is retiring from Rajya Sabha this month, has been in Parliament since 1980 ––  except for nearly three years when he became the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir –– two terms in the Lok Sabha and five in the Rajya Sabha.

“The person who will replace Ghulam Nabi ji (as Leader of Opposition) will have difficulty matching his work because he was not only concerned about his party but also about the country and the House,” PM Narendra Modi said about the 71-year-old Congress leader who started his political career in 1973 and has never looked back.

Recalling Azad’s response to a terror attack on a hotel in Kashmir where Gujarati tourists were killed, PM Narendra Modi said Azad, then chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, called him twice and personally made all arrangements for the tourists like a family member would do. “Ghulam Nabi Azad cried after the terror attack,” PM Modi recalled. At this point the Prime Minister broke down

“Posts come, high office comes, power comes and how to handle these, one must learn from Ghulam Nabi Azad Ji. I would consider him a true friend,” the PM said.

Azad, who was picked by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to lead the Youth Congress, has often been at the receiving end of attacks in Parliament. Just yesterday, Prime Minister Modi took potshots at Azad referring to the internal churn in the Congress. “Ghulam Nabi ji always speaks decently, never uses foul language. We should learn this from him, I respect him for it. He praised elections held in J&K… I believe your party will take it in right spirit, and not make the mistake of doing opposite by listening to suggestions of G-23.” said the PM.

The reference to G-23 was to a group of leaders in Congress, led by Azad, who wrote a leader to part chief Sonia Gandhi expressing their unhappiness over the way the party was being run. The letter and its aftermath seems to have changed the ‘trouble shooter, status he enjoyed in the party.

With Jammu and Kashmir losing its statehood and assembly dissolved, Azad’s re-election  to Rajya Sabha became impossible. Though speculation is that he may be brought to the Upper House from some other state — maybe Kerala where Congress is in a position to elect one member — the party leadership has not made any decision yet.

Opposition leaders NCP’s Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut and BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra also showered praise on Azad. Mishra said that Mayawati had told him that Congress maybe giving Azad a farewell but he is not going anywhere. Raut said that he was sure that Azad would come back to the House.

Earlier, Chairman Venkaiah Naidu said, “Ghulam Nabi Azad has been a voice of sanity. He has served for as many as 28 years… He speaks politely but conveys his point effectively.  As a Chairman, I will miss his services.”

Four Rajya Sabha members retire this month – Mir Mohammad Fayaz, Shamsher Singh (retiring on February 10), Ghulam Nabi Azad (Leader of Opposition) and Nazir Ahmad Laway (retiring on February 15)