Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress veteran and the leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, on Tuesday rose to speak for the last time in the House, capping a 40-year long career as a lawmaker. And in his farewell speech, Azad started off by saying that he felt ‘proud to be a Hindustani Muslim’ while recalling his political highs and lows and some emotion-filled moments.
“I have always felt heaven is India. I was born after Independence. 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 71-year-old leader said in his retirement speech.
The Congress veteran has been in Parliament since 1980 –– except for nearly three years when he became the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir –– for two terms in the Lok Sabha and five in the Rajya Sabha.
Peppered with poems and quotations, the speech traced Azad’s journey as a lawmaker, a minister and a chief minister. He recalled how he had learnt a lot from late prime minister Atal Behari. “Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the leader of Opposition when I was Parliamentary Affairs Minister. We had a minority government back then but I learnt from Vajpayee ji how to resolve a deadlock,” he said.
An emotional Azad recalled the situations when he had broken down in public. He said the deaths of Congress leaders Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had moved him to tears.
Apart from that he said he had wept when he saw the devastation caused by tsunami in Odisha and when Gujarat tourists were killed by terrorists in Kashmir. Prime Minister Modi, who spoke before him, had amid tears also narrated the Gujarat incident to shower praise on Azad.
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 and broke down.
Azad’s political journey started in 1973 with the Block Congress Committee in Bhalessa, in Doda. Two years later, he was named the president of the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Youth Congress. That is when he caught the attention of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and then there was no looking back.
Apart from serving as a minister in the government of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he also led the Congress-PDP coalition government in then state of Jammu and Kashmir. For long, he was also seen as an important trouble-shooter for Sonia Gandhi but a letter written by a group of 23 leaders, led by him, seeking a change in the way the party was being run, seemed to have changed that status.
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.