New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday bid a tearful farewell to Congress veteran and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, saying that he respects the Congress leader as a “true friend” and will not let him retire, and will continue taking his advice.
Modi said it would be difficult for Azad’s successor in the Rajya Sabha to match him as he has set very high standards as an MP and as the Leader of the Opposition. Vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu also described Mr Azad as a “voice of sanity in the nation’s public life”, and someone who “speaks softly but conveys his point of view effectively”.
Calling himself a “proud Hindustani Muslim” who did not go to Pakistan, Mr Azad recalled how he learnt a lot from Parliament, late PMs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and got inspired from former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, and prayed that militancy should end in the country. Praising the PM, Mr Azad said Mr Modi never mixed personal context and his party’s responsibilities and used to be among the first ones to wish him on festivals and birthdays.
The terms of four Rajya Sabha members -- Mr Azad, PDP’s Nazir Ahmed Laway, his party colleague Mir Mohammad Fayaz and BJP’s Shamsher Singh Manhas -- are coming to an end, and the House bid farewell to the retiring members. While Mr Azad and Mr Laway are retiring February 15 from the Upper House, Mr Fayaz’s and Mr Singh’s term are ending on February 10.
Recalling conversations with the two PDP MPs in his Parliament room, Mr Modi said the sessions with them were always “enlightening” and that he is personally thankful to the information on Kashmir’s specifics that they used to engage during their conversations. Mr Modi said he had personal relations with both PDP members. Describing Mr Manhas as soft-spoken, Mr Modi said he had known him for many years and had worked along with him during his organisational days in J&K. While Mr Laway, in his farewell speech, requested that Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood be restored, Mr Fayaz parised the Modi government’s Ujwala scheme and said whenever they reached out to the government for help, they always received support from it.
“One thing I would like to say about Mr Azad that the next LoP will have a difficult time in matching his work because he was not only concerned about his party but also about the country and the House,” said the PM, and revealed how it was the Congress leader who had suggested to him to call a meeting of all party leaders during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the PM was holding a meeting of the floor leaders.
Mr Modi had tears as he recalled the 2007 terrorist attack on a tourist bus carrying Gujaratis in J&K when both him and Mr Azad were chief ministers of their respective states. The PM recalled how Mr Azad was the first one to call him, all teared up, and took care of the pilgrims from Gujarat as they were like his own family members.
“Posts come and go but how to remain sane… is something one should learn from him. It was a very emotional time for me… I respect him as a friend. I am sure that his nature and his zeal to work for the nation will never let him rest and whichever task he takes next, he will do value addition and his contribution will benefit the nation,” said the PM, while adding that his door will always remain open for Mr Azad and the other retiring members.
“I would not let you retire, will continue taking your advice,” the Prime Minister said in a tearful farewell to Mr Azad in the Upper House.