Giving a graphic account of what happened in the Upper House, the former J&K Kashmir minister pens in ‘Azaad’, on page 251, “the moment the home minister announced the Centre’s move to repeal article 370 of the constitution and bifurcate the state into two UTs, I threw my earphones off and went straight to the well of the House. I called the entire opposition to sit in Dharna. I urged the Congress Party people to follow suit, and they joined, except Jairam Ramesh. Who remained seated and did not protest.”
Azad, on August 5, 2019, was the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha when Amit Shah announced in the House that the regulations under Article 370 will not be applicable in J&K, causing a massive uproar, with the Opposition slamming the Centre over the move.
Jairam Ramesh is not the sole recipient of Azad’s ire. Salman Khurshid, who had questioned Azad’s role in the G-23 group of dissenters, finds a mention too. In the chapter titled, ‘the Grand Old Party: Bloopers and Bombast’, Azad dwells at length about why he and other party leaders in August 2020 had written a letter questioning the Congress leadership and attacking Khurshid and others for calling the ‘Rebels with Cause’ as dissidents, traitors and ingrates. “I would like to tell them today that some of us had given many times more than what we got in return, unlike many others who took undue advantage but did nothing for the party except for showing their presence through tweets.”
Azad seemed to be referring to Khurshid’s comments in August 2020 when his former Cabinet colleague quoted John Kennedy’s words: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country (read party) to say that the thousands of unnamed Congress cadres, who gave to the Congress, but unavoidably received little or nothing in return, too believe in democracy, unlike the G-23 leaders who have an impressive history of achievements.”
What seems to have got Azad’s goat is Khurshid’s further assertion, “They [G-23] must not forget that democracy is a process, not static in time. Ultimately, it is a relevant question whether it is fair to kick the very ladder you have climbed to the top storey of life from where making speeches is easy. But do think of the many who did not make it to the ladder, the elevated platforms being far beyond reach.”
Responding to kicking the ladder’s charge, Azad returns fire in his memoirs, “I would like to reiterate that we have not kicked the ladder that we had used to climb to the top. Rather, people like me were the ladder that some leaders used to reach to the top, and after reaching the summit, they found no need for the ladder anymore. Our aim was to strengthen that ladder, which had begun to creak under the weight of undeserving and inexperienced people. Those who are telling us that we had reached the top using the ladder that we were kicking now forget that others had reached the top by parachute.”
Azad’s autobiography broadly covers every aspect of virtually everything that has gone wrong with Congress. Azad, who spent nearly 55 years in the party before quitting in a huff in August 2022, says the root cause for the Congress’ downfall is that “it destroys its own potential leaders at the national and state levels by projecting parallel, incapable leadership against them, thus destroying the party from the top to bottom in the process.”
Azad laments that over a period of time, sycophancy has taken a centre stage in the party. “Sadly, nobody wants to hear the bitter truth,” concludes the veteran leader.
It goes without saying that Azad’s political account is subjective, laced with feeble attempts to defend the indefensible, such as the Congress getting an alliance with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh. Azad’s high praise for Vir Bahadur Singh, a former Congress chief minister of UP, surprisingly makes no mention of the barbaric communal riots in Meerut during the Vir Bahadur era that had perhaps forced the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to sack Azad’s protégé.
Like his more illustrious colleague Pranab Mukherjee, writer Azad seems to have developed a habit of saying, ‘there are three things – A and B…” Somehow, the C part remained unspoken as if intentional. Azad’s ‘Azaad’ is not free from this inherent, deliberate weakness.
Apparently, Azad has discreetly told his friends in Congress, including G-23 letter signatories, not to come for the book release “to save themselves from embarrassment”.