How Ghulam Nabi Azad's Padma award reignited Congress vs Congress fight

The BJP-ruled Centre’s decision to give Padma Bhushan to Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad has once again stirred troubles in the party as some leaders favoured the honour while others took veiled digs at the senior leader for accepting the award

FP Staff January 27, 2022 14:41:28 IST
How Ghulam Nabi Azad's Padma award reignited Congress vs Congress fight

File photo of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. PTI

The BJP-ruled Centre’s decision to give Padma Bhushan to Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad has once again stirred troubles in the party as some leaders favoured the honour while others took veiled digs at the senior leader for accepting the award.

Though subtle in nature, the signs of in-fighting in Congress have again raised larger questions about the grand old party’s hold over its own senior leadership, especially at a time when it prepares for elections in five states.

What is the latest spat about inside Congress and why has it cropped up again, here’s everything you need to know about another Congress vs Congress episode:

What is the latest row

For a party as grand as Congress, it is not unusual to have internally warring factions, however, one or other such episode has kept the issue in news for more than a year now.

From a demand for complete organisational overhaul in August 2020 to its leaders quitting the party in the aftermath of turmoil in its Punjab unit, infighting in Congress was reignited when the BJP government announced Ghulam Nabi Azad’s name for Padma Bhushan.

While the Congress top brass maintained silence over Azad’s nomination for the third-highest civilian award, leaders of the G-23 group congratulated him even as senior leader Jairam Ramesh took several jibes at the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

Rumour mills were abuzz when Azad, who is among the very few Congress leaders to be put in high regards by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, openly talked against the party leadership in December 2021.

"When Rajiv ji joined politics, Indira Gandhi called both of us and told Rajiv ji that Ghulam Nabi can even say no to me, but that NO doesn't mean disobeying or disrespect, that's for the good of the party. Today, no one is ready to listen to that no. For saying no you become nobody today," he told NDTV after a public meeting at Ramban.

What is G-23

In August 2020, a group of 23 senior Congress leaders wrote to interim party chief Sonia Gandhi. They unanimously requested immediate and active leadership and organisation rejig in the party.

The ‘rebel’ leaders sought overhaul within the party in view of failure to perform well in Lok Sabha and assembly elections.

Post-2019 Lok Sabha polls, Senior leader Rahul Gandhi’s defeat in Congress home turf Amethi also acted as a catalyst for the bubbling discontent in party leaders.

In the letter, the leaders suggested a democratic setup inside the party to elect its president and other office bearers.

The members of G-23 have continued to talk out of party lines since on several occasions. Some of the important names in G-23 are Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, M Veerappa Moily, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Prithviraj Chavan.

Who said what

After the Centre announced the list of Padma awardees on 25 January, Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka Jairam Ramesh took veiled jibes at Azad for accepting the award by giving the example of PN Haksar, the principal secretary of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1971.

A few minutes later, Ramesh again tweeted, this time referring to former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya as “Azad” (free) and not “Ghulam” (slave), who refused to accept the award.

Part of the G-23, Sibal criticised the Congress leadership saying it “doesn’t need his services when the nation recognises his contributions to public life”.

Tharoor appreciated the fact that “a government of the other side” had recognised Azad’s public service.

Meanwhile, rumours started spreading about Azad’s possible move to the right as reports surfaced that he had removed his Twitter bio after the award was announced.

Azad refuted the claims calling them “mischievous propaganda”.


With inputs from agencies

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