Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad this week bid farewell to over 40 years of parliamentary life. Here he speaks exclusively to News18.com on his plans and his rapport with Prime Minster Narendra Modi and his equations with party chief Sonia Gandhi.
It was a tearful farewell for you. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself was in tears while speaking about you.
Well, I was touched and overwhelmed. The Vice President and the PM all spoke very nicely about me. I have worked very hard in different capacities. Of course, I have worked very hard for the party, but I have also worked very hard as a minister.
On the number of occasions I would tell my officers, when I was the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, that I would be ashamed if any of my colleagues would work on the basis of religion or differentiate on the basis of religion, region or political beliefs. We have to work for everybody. We have to work for every political party. I told everyone that, please don’t come to me for any one party. If it is for the development, don’t differentiate between parties and others.
I am a hardcore Congressman and I would like my party to come back again but as long as I was the chief minister I never asked for any vote for the party from any forum, because a chief minister belongs to all parties.
It was the same when I was a minister. I would tell them that people know my name, my religion and they know I am from the Congress, yet if someone comes to me for a work, I have no right not to do his work. This has been my basic principle. I thought this effort of mine has gone waste. But yesterday when everyone was speaking and saying I never discriminated against anybody, I felt satisfied that what I have done for four decades has been recognised.
The PM crying was an emotional moment. As an individual not as a Congressman how did you feel?
There are two things here. One was that they were very good words spoken by the honourable Prime Minister for me. I am thankful to him for that. The emotional part was for a different reason. It was about a terror attack when many Gujaratis were killed in J&K and the way I was weeping then. That is what had moved Modiji then also. He must have felt that I don’t differentiate between the people of Gujarat or people of Kashmir. I felt similar pain for them all. I think he recalled that and became emotional. I equally became emotional. I remember when I went to see off the Gujarati brothers and sisters, especially children were crying and asking where their father was. There I had broken down. And the Gujarati media showed it for days together and naturally Modi as CM saw this. He was recalling that.
He also took a dig at your party. About the group of 23 and the letter you wrote.
I think the PM was saying that in a lighter moment. The PM and I have met not for the first time. We have been general secretaries of our respective parties. We took part in TV debates together. We had tea and coffee together. When CM meetings were held, we would meet. We know each other. He knows I am a hardcore Congressman and I know he is a hardcore BJP person. We are not going to cross the Lakshman Rekha either side. But he appreciated my work.
The fact that you had a good relation with him has helped you as the leader of the Opposition?
As the leader of the Opposition, I did my job. Every year there were occasions when we would meet face to face. He never spared us and I never spared him and his policies. If he was doing his duty as the PM, then I was also doing my work.
You said he appreciated your work. But what about your own party? You think they didn’t appreciate you? At the CWC you faced flak.
I was not hurt. Because those who know me didn’t say anything, but those who don’t know me naturally said what they had to. The letter I have received from Mrs Gandhi (Congress President Sonia Gandhi) is very good. She appreciated my work as a minister, leader of the Opposition and as the chief minister. She specially appreciated the fact that I have good relations with other parties.
There are people who think in your party that you are against Gandhis becoming the Congress President.
They are fools. I think the Gandhis know better.
You have no personal grievance. Rahul Gandhi?
Not at all. We are all looking at strengthening the party.
What is your future now? You want to go back to your home state?
I think I have done what I could do for the Congress party ever since I was associated with the party. From 1971 to 2021. For 45 years, I am lucky that I have never been without any office for even a day. For 45 years, I never got even a day of rest. This is the time when I wanted to do so many things I couldn’t do. But I am not retiring but taking a break. There are millions and hundreds of things I can do.
If tomorrow you get a chance, you go back to the Rajya Sabha or go back to Jammu and Kashmir?
Jammu and Kashmir is impossible. In the Rajya Sabha as and when there is an opportunity I would prefer that, but I am not dying for it.
The PM also said his doors are always open for you. Is there any possibility of you joining the BJP?
No, no. No other party. I am born as a Congressman and I shall die as a Congressman.
You have a lovely garden which you have built up here?
Wherever I go I will take. Apna aashiana wahin banaa dengein. Hum jahan hain hum apna ashiana wahin banaa dengein. Hum Registan mein rahengein waheen bhi banaayengein, hum Siachen mein hongein wahaan bhi phool khilayengein.