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Azad Praising Modi: Eyebrows Raised in the Congress

Azad Praising Modi: Eyebrows Raised in the Congress

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Feb 28: Eyebrows have risen in the Congress circles over the veteran party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has just started emerging as the dissidents’ choice for the party leadership, singing praises of the prime minister Narendra Modi.

Though appreciating good aspects of political rivals is sign of a healthy democracy, the bitterness prevailing between the Congress and the BJP has lately made such gestures a rarity.

After the mutual appreciations Modi showered on Azad and the Congress leader reciprocated when the then leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha was retiring earlier this month, Azad resumed the issue on Sunday showering praises on Modi as a “man grounded to earth.”

Azad, who yesterday 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, lavished praises on Modi while addressing a meeting of members of the Gujjar comminity in Jammu on Sunday.

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.”

He said Modi despite becoming the Prime Minister he hasn’t forgotten his roots and proudly calls himself a “chaiwala.” Azad said, “People must learn from Narendra Modi, who despite becoming the Prime Minister, hasn’t forgotten his roots. He proudly calls himself a ‘chai-wala’. Though I have serious political differences with Narendra Modi, the PM is a very grounded person.”

The former Rajya Sabha MP, at whose resignation 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’m 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 was seen saying a video clip going viral on social media.

“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 was all in tears as he praised Azad as a “true friend” and while the Congress leadership allowed the veteran leader to retire without providing an alternate post, Modi had told Azad, “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 are sure to cause concern in the upper echelons of the Congress’ leadership, particularly since they come a day after he and several other senior leaders including Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Raj Babbar, and several others expressing apprehension of the party “getting weak” unable to face challenges posed by the BJP.

Azad’s praise of Modi came as some G-23 members expressed unhappiness over the party’s ‘treatment’ of Azad with references made yesterday to “other parties offering seat to Azad.”

All of those at yesterday’s event are members of the G-23, who split the Congress in two last year after they wrote to interim chief Sonia Gandhi seeking for “full time and visible” leadership.

“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 had said. Sibal also cautioned his party against underestimating Azad’s value..

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 the Congress had “the greatest of respect (and) each of those in Jammu are senior leaders. We are proud of them and so are they. We are a family.”

At the event, Azad also said there was a need to fix the economic situation of J&K following the Covid-19 lockdown and abrogation of Article 370.

“Development work has to be increased three times over. J&K should be given 3-4 times more funds from Delhi. Today, work is not visible and industries are closed,” Azad said.

 

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