Political Commentaries

Azad Is Free For How Long

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Azad Is Free For How Long

Tushar Charan

In his letter of resignation, Congress veteran from Jammu and Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has severely indicted Rahul Gandhi, the de facto boss of the party, and is considering forming a party of his own. While he celebrates his ‘freedom’ from the alleged bondage and humiliation that he had to endure for a long time, it remains to be seen to what extent the septuagenarian Congress leader will be enjoying his freedom in his post-Congress years.

It was widely speculated after he surprised many by resigning from the Congress after a career spanning nearly 50 years that he might be joining the BJP. That course will be open for him only if he, nurtured in a ‘secular’ political ambience, can convince himself that his ‘freedom’ will be assured as a saffron flag bearer.

One cannot say that a hint of something brewing in the relationship between Azad and Narendra Modi came when the prime minister dramatized a farewell speech for Azad in the Rajya Sabha with fulsome praise for him. Azad returned the compliments with wet eyes. Modi knows the art of making emotional gestures to make political statements but Azad cannot claim that expertise.      

Azad has been in politics long enough to know that ‘freedom’ of the type he expects or longs for is not possible if he joins the saffron party with its quaint baggage of regressive ideologies. If he starts a party with ‘secular’ goals the BJP will not own him; if he opts for a polarized agenda, he will have to disown his own political past and convictions. Either way, the choice will be hard.

Yet, the BJP may extend a hearty welcome to him as a ‘trophy’ stolen from the Congress and believing that he can influence the ‘Pasmanda’ or backward Muslims in its favour ahead of the next general election. Azad is no representative of the Pasmanda Muslims but the part of the Jammu region he comes from does have a population of poor Muslims not known to be BJP voters. He, however, will not become an asset in the vote back politics of the BJP if he has to be used as an influencer in the unlikely event of BJP reaching out to the Muslim community.

It is not clear at this moment how starting a new political party will help Azad fulfill his high political ambitions. He will not be content with the tag of a regional leader. There are many reasons that he has enumerated in his resignation letter, but it is not doubted that he quit the Congress because he felt slighted.

He may become the supremo of a party that he launches but it will be not become a big party in national politics or the politics of Jammu and Kashmir where the political space is firmly occupied by parties like the National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party besides the Indian National Congress and the BJP (influence largely confined to the Hindu majority Jammu).

The best that he can hope for as the steward of a new political outfit is that it becomes a ‘king maker’ in the event of a hung assembly thrown up at the next elections. His party’s king maker role will count if it can help the BJP win majority.

But Azad might have to consider the fact that the new BJP of the Modi-Shah duo is in the habit of swallowing the small fish. Two telling examples have come recently are from Maharashtra and Bihar.    

To be a real asset for the BJP, Azad has to have credentials as a pan-Muslim leader which he obviously is not. Despite all the decades that he spent as a Congress leader Azad could never become a grassroots leader or an influential Muslim face of the Congress. If memory serves right, he probably won only one election on Congress ticket in his lifetime and that was from Maharashtra, not his native Jammu and Kashmir.

He remained a Rajya Sabha Member for four successive terms. The Upper House is a safer route for those who cannot be guaranteed victory in the Lok Sabha poll. But the Congress denied him a fifth term of the Rajya Sabha, reportedly because it has a rule that no party candidate will be allowed more than four terms.

Some people are of the view that Azad was upset when reports appeared of the Gandhi family propping up the chief minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, as the likely Congress president. Gehlot and Azad started their career in Congress politics around the same time; Azad is, in fact, two years older– ‘senior’– to Gehlot. 

Probably Azad, part of the so-called G-23 Congress leaders who had openly criticized  shortcomings of the party, including its prevaricating leadership, thought that denying him continuity in the Rajya Sabha or consideration as a prospective party president was a snub, a deliberate act of humiliation by the Mother-Son Gandhis.

It must have opened many wounds within him as he was reduced to a virtual nobody in the Congress. The emergence of a ‘coterie’ around the uncrowned king of the party, Rahul Gandhi, made things worse for him (and many other ‘veterans’).

Azad said nothing new in his big missive to the Congress president Sonia Gandhi when he resigned. All the damning criticism of Rahul Gandhi in his letter was a repetition of what is being said by so many for the last seven or eight years. He is also right but not the first one to say that the old-timers in the Congress are neglected and even insulted in a setup dominated by Rahul Gandhi and his ‘sycophants’.

It will be too optimistic to think that Rahul Gandhi will change his style of ‘immature’ and ‘part-time’ politics. But blaming Rahul Gandhi personally for the downfall of the Congress is a bit unfair because the biggest factor in the eclipse of the Congress is the success of the ‘new’ BJP with Narendra Modi as its mascot.  Whether the Congress is led by the Gandhi family or an ‘outsider’ or Azad in a new Avatar gets what he thinks he deserves will not make much difference###.