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Will Ghulam Nabi Azad’s exit from Congress trigger a mass exodus?  

A file picture of Ghulam Nabi Azad with his former Congress colleagues (Image courtesy: Twitter/@ghulamnazad)

Ghulam Nabi Azad, the 73-year-old veteran politician from Jammu and Kashmir, has finally severed his 45-year-long relationship with the Congress party. In a high-drama development in the national capital on Friday, one of the senior-most Congress leaders, Azad announced his resignation through a 5-page letter addressed to the party President Sonia Gandhi and simultaneously released to the press.

Azad’s exit could be a pivotal moment triggering a possible exodus from a party that, under the stewardship of Rahul Gandhi, already appears to be on life-support.

Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan backed Azad’s decision to quit. “What has happened is unfortunate. We are extremely concerned about the state of affairs in the Congress party. This is why we had written a confidential letter to Sonia Gandhi, but unfortunately, it was made public. We were branded as a group of rebels. What Ghulam Nabi Azad wrote in his resignation today were exactly the issues we raised before the Congress party. If Rahul Gandhi is not interested, he must allow the elections to happen and elect a Congress president who is willing to take over,” he told Indian Express.

Another former Congress heavyweight Sunil Jhakar who switched to the BJP called Azad’s move as the “beginning of the end”. Talking to a mediaperson, he said: “It’s the beginning of the end, what Mr Azad’s resignation signifies is that Congress had it coming. They perpetuated this situation. It was writing on the wall which they chose to ignore-whether it was Jyotiraditya Scindia, RPN Singh, Jitin Prasada & now Azad sa’ab”.

Former Congress leader Ashwani Kumar also slammed the Gandhi family for Azad’s decision. “Those who think that they can strengthen the Party by humiliating the veterans must know that no super structure can last upon a weak foundation and that foundations of political parties are weakened when the tried and tested are diminished”, he said.

In the explosive missive, Azad called the party’s election process “a farce and a sham”, while alleging that vice president Rahul Gandhi had “demolished” the Congress and its democratic character with his “childish” behaviour. According to Azad, the party which once achieved freedom to India and operated as a movement, was now being run on the advice of Rahul Gandhi’s aides and security guards. The bomb of rebellion in the party has gone off nearly two years after Azad and 22 of his like-minded colleagues formed the group G-23 and called for a democratic process of the elections. It also came out days after the AICC President reconstituted the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee and its different panels which led to Azad’s resignation as nominated head of the Campaign Committee and the Political Affairs Committee in the Union Territory.

“The entire organisational election process is a farce and a sham. At no place anywhere in the country have elections been held at any level of the organisation. Handpicked lieutenants of the AICC have been coerced to sign on lists prepared by the coterie that runs the AICC sitting in 24 Akbar Road,” Azad said in an acerbic communication to Sonia Gandhi. He alleged that following Rahul Gandhi’s entry into politics, especially after he was appointed the vice-president of the party in 2013, “the entire consultative mechanism which existed earlier was demolished by him”.

“Under your stewardship since 2014 and subsequently that of Rahul Gandhi, the INC (Indian National Congress) has lost two Lok Sabha elections in a humiliating manner. It has lost 39 out of the 49 assembly elections held between 2014-2022. The party only won four state elections and was able to get into a coalition situation in six instances. Unfortunately, today, the INC is ruling in only two states and is a very marginal coalition partner in two other states”, Azad added.

“Since the 2019 elections, the situation in the party has only worsened. After Rahul Gandhi stepped down in a huff and not before insulting all the senior party functionaries who have given their lives to the party in a meeting of the extended Working Committee, you took over as interim president. A position that you have continue to hold even today for the past three years. Worse still, the ‘remote control model’ that demolished the institutional integrity of the UPA government now got applied to the Indian National Congress. While you are just a nominal figurehead, all the important decisions were being taken by Rahul Gandhi or rather worse his security guards and PA’s,” Azad added further.

“In the August of 2020 when I and 22 other senior colleagues including former Union Ministers and Chief Ministers wrote to you to flag the abysmal drift in the party, the coterie chose to unleash its sycophants on us and got us attacked, vilified and humiliated in the crudest manner possible. In fact, on the directions of the coterie that runs the AICC today, my mock funeral procession was taken out in Jammu. Those who committed this indiscipline were feted in Delhi by the General Secretaries of the AICC and Rahul Gandhi personally. Subsequently the same coterie unleashed its goondas to physically attack the residence of a former ministerial colleague Kapil Sibal, who incidentally was defending you and your kin in the courts of law for your alleged attacks of omission and commission,” Azad said.

“The only crime committed by the 23 senior leaders who wrote that letter out of concern for the party is that they pointed out both the reasons for the weaknesses in the party and the remedies thereof. Unfortunately, instead of taking those views on board in a constructive and cooperative manner, we were abused, humiliated, insulted and vilified in a specially summoned meeting of the extended CWC (Congress Working Committee) meeting”, Azad complained.

“Unfortunately, the situation in the Congress party has reached such a point of no return that now proxies are being propped up to take over the leadership of the party. This experiment is doomed to fail because the party has been so comprehensively destroyed that the situation has become irretrievable,” he added. “Moreover, the chosen one would be nothing more than a puppet on a string”.

Azad, who recounted his years of service to the party in his letter, added that it was with “great regret and an extremely leaden heart that I have decided to sever my half a century old association with Indian National Congress”.

Azad’s resignation, which follows Captain Amrinder Singh’s in Punjab, ahead of the first Assembly elections in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, comes as a body blow to the Congress. No senior leader of Azad’s stature has deserted Sonia Gandhi’s party in the last several years. In his detailed letter, Azad has reminded Mrs Gandhi how he had joined and strengthened the Congress when it was politically and socially untouchable in Jammu and Kashmir. He has narrated how he, under Sanjay Gandhi’s leadership, held top positions in the party. In one of such meetings presided over by Azad, Sonia Gandhi’s husband Rajiv Gandhi was admitted into the party.

Azad has recorded how he had functioned in the CWC for over 35 years, remained in charge of all States and UTs and worked as a Minister with four Prime Ministers namely Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh. He has claimed credit that the party had won most of the elections he had campaigned for. Contrarily, he has pointed out, that Congress had lost both the Lok Sabha elections and most of the State Assembly elections held under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Significantly, Azad has indicated that he and his like-minded colleagues of the Congress would continue to strengthen the ideals which for decades served as fundamentals of the party ideology.

While reactions to Azad’s resignation are awaited, five of his loyalists in Jammu and Kashmir and former legislators– Ghulam Mohammad Saroori, Mohammad Amin Bhat, Haji Abdul Rashid, Gulzar Ahmad Wani and Choudhary Mohammad Akram—have also announced their resignation in the afternoon on Friday. Apart from working as a Union Cabinet Minister for years, Azad functioned as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir with PDP’s support from November 2005 to July 2008. From 2014 onwards, he functioned as the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha for 8 years.

Also Read: Congress must look beyond Rahul & Priyanka, says party veteran Anand Sharma