Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who recently retired from the Rajya Sabha, said everybody is working for the grand old party and trying to strengthen it. Calling the term ‘G23’ (group of 23 Congress leaders, who wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi in August last year) a media creation, Azad said, “We are not against anyone or any leader. We are working for the Congress and to strengthen it. There are many who are trying to divide the nation. We are looking to develop the nation.”
Speaking at an event, titled Shanti Sammelan, in Jammu where the former leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha was accompanied by other Congress dissenters like Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal and Raj Babbar, Azad said, “In the last five-six years, all these friends (party leaders) did not speak any less than me in the Parliament over Jammu and Kashmir, its unemployment, stripping off of statehood, finishing off industries and education, implementation of GST.
“Be it Jammu or Kashmir or Ladakh, we respect all religions, people and castes. We equally respect everyone, that is our strength and we will continue with this,” the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said.
Hitting out at Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre over the abrogation of article 370 that took away Kashmir’s special status and making it a union territory, Azad said, “Today, after many years, we are not part of the state. Our identity has been lost. The fight will be continued inside and outside our Parliament to regain statehood. When there are no elected ministers and chief ministers, this condition of unemployment, roads and schools will continue.”
Regarding his retirement from the upper House of Parliament, Azad said, “I have retired from the Rajya Sabha, have not retired from politics and I have not retired from Parliament for the first time.”
Former Union minister and senior leader Kapil Sibal said the gathering in Jammu is aimed at strengthening the Congress, adding that the Congress is becoming weak. “The truth is that we see Congress party getting weak. That is why we have gathered here. We had gathered together earlier too and we have to strengthen the party together.”
Regarding Azad’s retirement from the Rajya Sabha, Sibal said he was saddened by the development. “What is the real role of Ghulam Nabi Azad sahab? A person who flies an aircraft is an experienced person. An engineer accompanies him to detect & repair any malfunctioning in the engine. Ghulam Nabi ji is experienced as well as engineer. He is one such leader who knows the ground reality of the Congress in every district of every state. We were saddened when we realised that he is being freed from Parliament. We didn’t want him to go from Parliament. I cannot understand why is the Congress not using his experience.”
Another senior party leader, Anand Sharma said there has never come such an occasion after 1950 when there has been no representative of Jammu and Kashmir in the Rajya Sabha, adding this will be corrected.
“The Congress has weakened in the last decade. Our voice is for the betterment of the party. It should be strengthened everywhere once again. The new generation should connect (to party). We have seen good days of the Congress. We don’t want to see it weakening as we become older,” Sharma said.
Regarding criticism for speaking out against the party, Sharma said, “All of us have covered a very long distance to reach where we are today. Nobody among us has come through the window, all of us have walked through the door. We have come through the students’ movement, the youth movement.”
“I have not given anyone the right to tell me if we are people of the Congress or not, nobody has that right. We will build the party, we will strengthen it. We believe in the strength and unity of the Congress,” he added.
Actor-turned-Congress leader Raj Babbar said leaders who wrote the letter to Gandhi last year want the party to be strong. “People say ‘G23’, I say Gandhi 23. With the belief, resolve & thinking of Mahatma Gandhi, this nation’s law & Constitution was formed. Congress is standing strongly to take these forward. ‘G23’ want Congress to be strong,” the former MP said.