PM Bids Tearful Adieu To Azad

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke down several times in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday while reminiscing about his close association with Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad whose term is coming to an end next week.

The prime minister was participating in the farewell speech for Leader of Opposition Azad and three other members from Jammu and Kashmir — Nazir Ahmad Laway, Shamsher Singh Manhas, Mir Mohammad Fayaz– whose terms in the Upper House are coming to an end.

Modi said it would be difficult for anyone to fill the shoes of Azad as he cared not only about his political affiliation but also about the country and the House.

“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. This is not a small thing, this a big thing,” Modi said.

He noted that Azad had called him to ask for an all party meeting during COVID-19 period.

“I liked that and also did it. This kind of connection is there because he has the experience of both being in power and in opposition. Twenty-eight years experience in all, it is a big thing,” the prime minister said.

Reminiscing about their long association, Modi said that as chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat, both of them kept in touch with each other.

Sharing details of their communication during a militant attack on some Gujarati pilgrims in Jammu and Kashmir, Modi said Azad was the first one to call him about the incident.

With tears rolling down his cheeks, Modi said that Azad cried on the call while informing him about the horrific attack.

“Azad was the first person to call me. During that call he could not stop crying,” Modi said with a choked voice as tears rolled down from his eyes.

Azad later went to the airport when the bodies were sent back and kept in touch till the plane landed in Gujarat, Modi said.

“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.

Modi said he believes that Azad’s concern for his country won’t let him sit and whatever responsibilities he takes in the future would be beneficial for the nation.

“At a personal level, I would request him to not believe that he is not in the House. My door is always open for all of you. I will always expect and value your inputs,” he said.

“I will not let you become weak,” the prime minister told Azad as he closed his comments.

Earlier, Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu described Azad as a voice of sanity in public life over few decades when he made valuable contributions while serving both in government and in opposition.

Azad retires from Rajya Sabha on February 15 after being the leader of opposition for over six years since June 8, 2014.

Naidu said Azad’s retirement is particularly painful with the House having lost Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.

‘Proud to be a Hindustani Musalman’

Earlier Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday said he feels proud to be an Indian Muslim.

Delivering his farewell speech in the Upper House of Parliament, the veteran Congressman recalled his association with several leaders, including stalwarts from other parties, which helped him learn many things.

In his 28-minute speech, he used several couplets and hoped for the restoration of peace in Jammu and Kashmir and the return of Kashmiri Pandits back to the valley.

Recalling his journey, Azad, who started his political career when he was still a student, said reading about Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad made him patriotic.

He said it would take weeks to narrate his legislative experience of 41 years and recalled how his political career started during his school days.

“When I was a college student in Jammu and Kashmir, both August 14 and August 15 used to be celebrated. The majority used to celebrate August 14. I was among those few fortunate people, about a dozen, who used to celebrate August 15,” Azad said.

The former Union minister said he is among those “lucky” people who have never gone to Pakistan.

“When I read about the state of affairs in Pakistan, I feel proud that I am a Hindustani Musalman,” he said.

Muslims in India should have pride for themselves as they have kept away from the evils that are there in the neighbouring countries, Azad said.

However, he also added: “The majority community should also take two steps forward.”

Remembering his tenure as the chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, Azad said he had convened his first public meeting in the troubled Sopore district, which is unthinkable even today.

“I had said my government would be a government of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and if any minister worked on the basis of religion and party, I would be ashamed,” he said.

Azad specially thanked former prime minister Indira Gandhi and late Congress leader Sanjay Gandhi, saying he reached here only because of them.

“I have worked with five presidents and around four or five prime ministers as a member of their cabinets. I also got the opportunity to work as the party in-charge of states and Union territories 35-36 times,” he said, adding that he got to learn several things from these experiences.

Azad also remembered how he got chances to work with senior Congress leaders and even with stalwarts of other political parties while negotiating on behalf of his party, including Jyoti Basu of the CPI(M), M Karunanidhi of the DMK, J Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK, Chandra Shekhar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Parkash Singh Badal, G K Moopanar, K Karunakaran, Farooq Abdulla and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

“I was the parliamentary affairs minister with three prime ministers,” he said.

However, Azad said he had a special bond with late BJP leader and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“I cannot forget that Indiraji used to tell me and Fotedarji (Makhan Lal Fotedar), who was then her political secretary, to be in touch with Atalji. She did not say the BJP, but asked us to be in touch with Atalji,” he said.

Azad said from 1991-96, when the Congress was in power, he was the parliamentary affairs minister in the minority government and Vajpayee was the leader of opposition, he learnt a lot from the latter.

“I have learnt from him as to how a solution is arrived at in which both the government and the opposition will have their say,” he said.

Azad said he has cried only five times in his life — when Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi died, which were sudden, during the tsunami in 1999 and in 2005, when he was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and militants had killed Gujarati tourists in a grenade attack on their bus.

Even when his father died, he had tears in his eyes but did not cry, he said.

“Today, I pray to god to finish militancy from this country,” Azad said, while pointing out that thousands of police, military and paramilitary personnel have been killed in the battle against militancy.

“Several citizens have also been killed in cross-firing and thousands of our daughters and mothers have become widows,” he said while hoping that normalcy returns to the Kashmir valley.

Azad also recalled his association with Kashmiri Pandits, who used to vote for him in large numbers during his student union days.

“Now, all of us are separated and I always have deep regrets when I meet my classmates,” he said.

Dedicating a couplet to all those displaced from the valley, the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said, “Us ashiyana jo ki is waqt ujda hua hai, uske liye hum sabko prayas karna hai (all of us have to make efforts to restore the nest, which is devastated now).”

Azad thanked Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other dignitaries, including the Secretary-General of the House.

He also praised the prime minister, who always wished him personally on occasions such as Eid and his birthday.

Azad’s Rajya Sabha membership comes to an end on February 15

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