Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad has said he does not see a young Muslim leader aspiring to be the prime minister of India in near future, the Hindustan Times reported on Friday.
In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Azad said it was difficult for a Muslim leader to aim for the top post. “I don’t foresee it in near future, maybe a few decades,” he said.
The Congress leader also refuted rumours suggesting that he will join the Bharatiya Janata Party. “I will join the BJP when we have black snow in Kashmir,” Azad said. “Why BJP – that’s the day I’ll join any other party. Those who say this or spread these rumours, they don’t know me.”
Azad, who is set to retire from the Rajya Sabha on February 15, also spoke about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s teary-eyed farewell for him. When asked if the prime minister’s gesture will resonate with the audience in Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress leader said that such things will not affect the matters of the Union Territory.
“The entire population is so concerned, not just about [revocation of] Article 370,” he said. “Downgrading the state to a Union Territory, which was not a BJP agenda, and the division of the state, have hurt everybody; we’ve been reduced to ashes.”
He said that nobody can digest that Jammu and Kashmir, which is among the largest and oldest states in the country, has been made a Union Territory.
On Congress leader Shashi Tharoor describing the prime minister’s crying as an “artfully-crafted performance”, Azad said that most people don’t know about the background of his relationship with Modi. “A lot of people thought the prime minister was doing it artificially, because why should he bother that a Congressman is going,” he said. “As I said, the words he used were for me, but our emotion was in a different context.”
He said that both of them cried not because they knew each other, but because of the terrorist attack on a Gujarati tourist bus in Kashmir in 2006. Azad said that he had broken down when speaking about the incident with Modi. “The PM was saying that here is a person who’s retiring who is also a good human being,” Azad told the Hindustan Times. “He couldn’t complete the story because he broke down, and when I wanted to complete the story, I couldn’t because I felt I was back in that moment 14 years ago when the attack took place.”
The Congress leader said that he had known Modi since the 1990s when both of them were general secretaries in their respective parties. He recalled that they used to fight during television debates, but added that the duo would also share a cup of tea and talk if they reached the studio early.
“Later we knew each other as chief ministers, meeting at the prime minister’s meetings, home minister’s meetings,” he said. “Then he was chief minister and I was health minister, and we would speak every 10-15 days on different issues.”
On Modi’s statement that the Congress had conflicting strategies as it joined the debate in the Rajya Sabha and not Lok Sabha, Azad said that there is a difference between both Houses. “Lok Sabha members have their constituency on their mind and may take hasty decisions; that’s why the House of Elders will coolly apply its mind, and do what’s good for their country,” he said.
Azad also said it was unfair that the prime minister took only Congress’s name as all political parties had unanimously decided to hold discussions in the Rajya Sabha.
He also spoke about 23 Congress leaders writing to party chief Sonia Gandhi. Azad said that the party had lost elections earlier but getting 44 or 52 seats and not even having a leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha was unacceptable to many of the leaders.
The Congress leader said that many people had approached him and other senior members of the party to list things that were going wrong. “Then we put it all together, and this is what we wanted the leadership to see,” he said. “It was unfortunate that someone leaked it. That was not our purpose.”
He said that Rahul Gandhi had resigned as the chief of the party and Sonia’s Gandhi’s one-year tenure at the helm of the organisation was about to end. “That was the reason that we wanted a full-time president, we wanted elected bodies at each level, so that we could rise from the ashes,” Azad said. “We wanted to strengthen the organisation and not challenge it.”
In August, 23 Congress leaders had written to Sonia Gandhi, asking for a complete transformation of the organisation and to address the leadership question in the party.