Veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who Saturday shared a stage with other members of the G-23 – a group of senior party leaders who have questioned the Gandhis’ leadership style – at a public event in Jammu and Kashmir, Sunday lavished praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Azad, who hails from J&K and served three years as Chief Minister, drew parallels between himself and the Prime Minister, of whom he said “I appreciate he doesn’t hide his true self”.
The former Rajya Sabha MP, at whose retirement earlier this month the PM choked up and struggled to speak, also warned political leaders (he took no names), against “living in a bubble”.
“I like a lot of things about many leaders. I’m from a village and am proud of that… I am also proud that leaders like our Prime Minister, who used to sell tea, also come from villages. We may be rivals, but I appreciate he doesn’t hide his true self,” Azad said in a video shared by news agency ANI.
Living in a bubble
“Those who do… are living in a bubble. A man should be proud (of who he is and where he comes from). I have travelled the world and stayed in 5-star hotels, in 7-star hotels… But when I sit with people from my village… there is a fragrance that makes it special,” he added.
On February 9, the Prime Minister teared up as he praised his “true friend” Azad, and said: “I (will) not let you retire; I will continue taking your advice. My doors are always open for you.”
Azad returned the praise, noting that Prime Minister separated personal ties and party politics.
Azad’s words – at a public event in Jammu – are likely to raise eyebrows (again) in the upper echelons of the Congress’ leadership, particularly since they come a day after he and several other senior leaders said they feared “the Congress getting weak” ahead of five key Assembly polls.
“The truth is that we see the Congress getting weak. That is why we have gathered. We gathered earlier too and we have to strengthen the party together,” Kapil Sibal said.
‘Underestimated Azad’s value’
Sibal also cautioned his party against underestimating Ghulam Nabi Azad’s value. “…since he came into politics, he has played his role for the party, and gained a lot of experience over the years.”
The praise came as some G-23 members expressed unhappiness over the party’s treatment’ of Azad, with references made yesterday to “other parties offering a seat to Ghulam Nabi Azad”.
All of those at yesterday’s event are members of the G-23. Last year they had split the Congress in two after they wrote to interim chief Sonia Gandhi to ask for “full time” and “visible” leadership.
In response to Saturday’s meeting Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi suggested that with elections around the corner, dissenting leaders would be better advised by working in those states. However, he stressed too that Congress had “the greatest of respect (and) each of those in Jammu are senior leaders. We are proud of them and so are they. And we are a family.”