Bhubaneswar: It was a day of high emotion and a hint of change of political colour in the Rajya Sabha as Leader of the Opposition and veteran Congress leader of Jammu & Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad delivered the last speech of his present term on Tuesday.
Azad, the favourite Muslim poster boy of Congress since the time of former prime minister late Indira Gandhi, was poignant in his response to teary-eyed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recollection of his association with the Congress leader.
“You are retiring from the House, but I will not let you retire and my doors are open for you and I will need your contribution and advice,” said the Prime Minister.
Modi also recounted how Azad had informed him with grave concern when there was an attack on Gujarati tourists in Kashmir. “He was almost crying,” he said.
The fiery Leader of Opposition was equally emotional as he admitted that he had cried when Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi died.
As the members of the House listened with rapt attention and rare silence to the two highly respectful leaders, Azad’s words revealed his human feelings for the Indians irrespective of the region.
Not known to show his emotion, Azad admitted with choked voice that he had cried when he came to know about the loss of hundreds of human lives in devastating Super Cyclone that ravaged Odisha in 1999.
Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu said Azad was retiring from the House but not from public service and hoped that “he gets re-elected soon to the House.”
Ironically, even as BJP leaders minced no words in their praise for Azad, the Congress leaders had cold reaction, sending across a mixed message of his political future.
In his 30-minute speech Azad recounted his association with the Congress and party presidents from Indira Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi. But he gave the sense that there is no chance of him being re-elected to the Upper House from his parent party.
Though the Congress has not officially dismissed the possibility of Azad’s re-election, it is expected that Mallikarjun Kharge, former leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, will take his seat in the Rajya Sabha.
No wonder, political pundits foresee a Azad with a saffron turban in Kashmir not in distant future.