There was a certain inevitability to Ghulam Nabi Azad’s decision to quit the Congress party. Though there has been a steady depletion in the ranks, he is perhaps the senior most leader to have quit the party in recent years.
The chasm between Azad and the Congress leadership has been widening ever since he, along with 23 other senior leaders of the party, wrote to the Congress president in September 2020 voicing their concern and calling for correctives to be applied.
The last straw appears to have been over the revamp in the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC), especially the manner in which the new PCC chief was appointed.
The Final Nail in The Coffin
It appears that Azad was asked by Sonia Gandhi to suggest some names of candidates to take over as the new PCC chief. He duly sent her a list of four names in order of preference. Weeks passed and there was no response.
At some point, the list is set to have made its way to Rahul Gandhi. Mr XYZ, who featured at number four on the list, was asked to come to Delhi for a meeting with Rahul but was told not to speak about it to anybody, including the former state chief minister.
Azad saw this, and the move to appoint him as the chairman of the campaign committee for J&K, a Union territory, even though he is a member of the Political Affairs Committee at the national level, as an attempt not just to bypass him, but also to undermine him.
Different Approach Towards Opposition
It is no secret that he has been chafing at the bit for a long time. As the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, he appeared out of sync with the party leadership. He preferred a more nuanced approach, while the leadership favored an aggressive, all-out opposition to the Narendra Modi-led government.
Senior party leaders accused him of being soft on Prime Minister Modi and cited the wholesome praise and the tears, that the PM shed in his farewell speech to mark the end of Azad’s term as the LOP of the upper house, as evidence of bromance with the Prime Minister.
Give and Take Between Azad and Congress
Both sides, the loyalists and Azad have a long list of grouses, both real and imaginary, against each other. The loyalists point to the fact that he has been Chief Minister, Union cabinet minister multiple times, an MP for several terms, and one of the longest serving general secretaries of the Congress, all courtesy of the party.
"Short of making him the PM or the AICC President, the party gave him everything, so to now complain is a bit rich," says the newly minted Communications department chief Jairam Ramesh.
Azad and his supporters point to the fact that in the last couple of years, more precisely ever since Rahul Gandhi started calling the shots in the party, there has been a concerted effort to sideline, undermine, and replace senior party leaders with “rootless, inexperienced yes men”.
The decision not to renominate Azad to the Rajya Sabha at the end of his term as the LOP of the upper house, clearly hurts.
It is not only laid at the Gandhi scions’ door but is also viewed as yet another attempt to replace senior leaders with people handpicked by Rahul Gandhi.
Azad’s supporters make no bones about the fact that they feel aggrieved at Azad being deliberately ignored and not given a position commensurate with his seniority and experience in the organization.
“He was ideally suited to become at the very least the general secretary in charge of the organization, instead they choose a novice,” says a party MP.
What's Congress Headed at?
The Congress party is undoubtedly going through one of the toughest phases in its 137-year history. Since 2014, it has been losing elections at regular intervals and its political footprint has been steadily receding for a party that once ruled across the length and breadth of the country, and is now in government only in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, and is a part of a coalition government in two other states.
It finds itself hemmed in from all sides. The ED is breathing down the party leadership's neck, and there has been a steady depletion in the Congress ranks in the last couple of years. Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, RPN Singh, Sushmita Dev, Sunil Jhakkar, Kuldeep Bishnoi, Hardik Patel, and now Ghulam Nabi Azad. Word coming out of the party suggests that more leaders could follow suit.
(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)