Prime Minister Narendra Modi choked up and struggled to speak in parliament today during a farewell to a rival politician, Rajya Sabha Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad.
PM Modi heaped praise on the Congress veteran who sat across him in the Rajya Sabha, and teared up as he shared an episode when they were both Chief Ministers – of Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir.
“I have known Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad for years. We were Chief Ministers together. We had interacted even before I became Chief Minister, when Azad Sahab was very much in active politics. He has a passion not many know about – gardening,” PM Modi said.
He referred to a 2007 terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir on visitors from Gujarat. Mr Azad was the first to call him to inform him about the incident. The Prime Minister said Mr Azad’s tears would not stop.
“I will never forget Shri Azad’s efforts and Pranab Mukherjee’s efforts when people from Gujarat were stuck in Kashmir due to a terror attack. That night…Ghulam Nabi Ji called me…,” he recalled, fighting tears, and paused for water.
“He sounded concerned like people are concerned about their own family members. That is the kind of feeling he showed.” As the Prime Minister stopped to gather himself, there was loud desk-thumping.
“Power comes and goes. But how to handle it…,” PM Modi broke off again and saluted him, letting that gesture speak more than words.
“That was a very emotional moment for me.”
The PM told Mr Azad, whose Rajya Sabha term ends on February 15: “I would not let you retire, I will continue taking your advice. My doors are always open for you.”
Describing the Congress leader as a “true friend”, he remarked that he was a tough act to follow. “The person who will replace Ghulam Nabi ji as Leader of Opposition will have difficulty matching his work because he was not only concerned about his party but also about the country and the House,” he said.
Mr Azad returned the praise, noting that the Prime Minister kept personal ties separate from the context of party politics. “We sparred in the House, we had long arguments, but you never let it affect personal bonds,” the Congress leader said.
“Two people always greeted me during festivals – Congress president Sonia Gandhi and PM Modi.”
Mr Azad remembered the same incident that left the PM in tears and spoke about his own horror at the terror attack on tourists from Gujarat just two days after he became Chief Minister. “At the airport, children who had lost family members grabbed my legs…I cried out – ‘oh God, what have you done? How will I answer these children, these people who came to visit and are going back with bodies…,” he said, wiping a tear.
The PM’s moving tribute came a day after he gave a shout-out to Mr Azad for his conduct in parliament while taking a dig at his party leadership. “Ghulam Nabi ji always speaks decently, never uses foul language. We should learn this from him, I respect him for it. He praised elections held in J&K, but I am concerned. I believe your party will take it in right spirit and not make the mistake of doing the opposite by taking it as the view of the G-23,” the Prime Minister jibed, referring to a group of 23 in the Congress who wrote to party chief Sonia Gandhi last year demanding sweeping changes in the organization. Mr Azad was among these letter writers.