Azad exits: Ex-leaders express doubt over Congress' future, fearful of more resignations

He and other former Congress leaders said new combinations will soon emerge and occupy the liberal space in Indian polity.

Published: 27th August 2022 08:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th August 2022 08:12 AM   |  A+A-

Former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. (Photo | PTI)

By Online Desk

NEW DELHI: Ghulam Nabi Azad's resignation from the Congress may trigger a series of exits as the "deep-rooted malaise" within the party cannot be addressed by the present dispensation, former Congress leader and law minister Ashwini Kumar said Friday.

He and other former Congress leaders said new combinations will soon emerge and occupy the liberal space in Indian polity.

Kumar called upon the Congress leadership to reflect within and find solutions rather than "calumnising" the dissenters.

"The resignation of Azad confirms yet again that under the present dispensation and in the current scheme of things, the deep-rooted malaise that afflicts the party cannot be addressed," Kumar told PTI soon after Azad announced ending his decades-long association with the party.

"The new but expected development will trigger more exits, which will further weaken the Congress pushing it into political irrelevance."

ALSO READ | Betrayal by Azad, say Mallikarjuna Kharge, D K Shivakumar

The former Union minister said the resignation of Ghulam Nabi Azad signals the end of an era for what was once the "grand old Party" of India.

"But life abhors a vacuum and so does politics. New combinations will emerge to occupy the secular and liberal space in the nation's politics. It is sad to see the decimation of the party of freedom fighters which ought to have played a defining role in the present times."

"The Congress needs to reflect inwards, acknowledge its deficiencies and flaws of its internal politics rather than calumniating the dissenters," the veteran Congressman said.

"Will it learn from its decline is the question?" he asked.

"Those who think that they can strengthen the Party by humiliating the veterans must know that no superstructure can last upon a weak foundation and that foundations of political parties are weakened when the tried and tested are diminished," he said.

Another former Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill, who quit recently, said Azad's resignation is a sad day for all well-meaning workers and leaders who give their blood and sweat to the Party.

"In reality, this cabal is working within Congress on 'Congress Todo Abhiyan', elbowing out all the well-meaning leaders," he told PTI "Now a senior leader is speaking about it becoming a club of PAs and security guards shows that leaders across age groups are frustrated and disappointed by this entire coterie culture that is thriving in Congress."

Shergill said Azad's letter is the "correct diagnosis" of the problems plaguing the Congress Party.

Priyanka Chaturvedi, who also quit and joined the Shiv Sena, said he respects Azad's seniority and the resignation is not a surprise.

However, the tone and tenor of the letter is surprising, she said.

ALSO READ | Loyalist to rebel: Ghulam Nabi Azad's journey in Congress

"Over four decades of being part of Congress governments as well as reaching the pinnacle of Chief Minister to unbroken senior organisational role this letter sounds shallow.

The attack on Rahul Gandhi in hindsight as well as Sonia Gandhi indirectly goes against the sentiments of how thousands of Congress workers have shown their faith in their leadership," she said.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who also quit the Congress a few years ago after being "ignored" by the leadership, said Azad's resignation had many similarities with the one he had written when he quit the party in 2015.

The problem in the Congress is that everybody knows Rahul Gandhi is "immature, whimsical and unpredictable" but his mother is still trying to promote him, Sarma said on the sidelines of a programme here.

"Her mission will not be successful," Sarma claimed.

"I had written in 2015 that a time will come when only the Gandhis will be left in the Congress and all others will leave. This is what is happening."

Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit, who was part of the G23 which had written to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking an organisational overhaul, expressed dismay and a "sense of betrayal" over Azad's resignation.

"When I read your letter of resignation, it gave me a sense of dismay and unfortunately, then a sense of betrayal," he wrote to Azad.

"I wholeheartedly and in full agreement signed the letter that you had written to the Congress president, and became a part of what some media people called the G23."

"But to my mind, we, and I in it, had raised the banner of reform, not a banner of revolt," the former Delhi MP said.

Azad resigned Friday from the party ahead of organisational elections.

Azad also accused the leadership of committing a "giant fraud" on the party in the name of "farce and sham" internal polls, saying no such exercise has taken place at any level and lists are being prepared by the coterie that runs the AICC.

Sushmita Dev, who also quit the Congress last year and joined the TMC, said "It is sad to see a stalwart like GNA leave the INC. It calls for introspection, rather than take a myopic view and say that the party doesn't need him or he had a vested interest."

Meanwhile, former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh on Friday targeted the Congress, saying the party under the current leadership is "doomed beyond redemption".

Amarinder Singh had also quit the Congress last year following his unceremonious exit as the chief minister and floated his own outfit, Punjab Lok Congress.

ALSO READ | Exits of Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal leave G-23 change seekers in disarray

"When you cannot retain leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad who spent his entire life with the party, there is something terminally wrong with your functioning and the way you treat your senior and seasoned leaders," Singh said in a statement.

Questioning the claims of some leaders that the party had given Azad so much, Amarinder Singh said it is a reciprocal process.

"The party is made by the blood and sweat and hard work of leaders," he remarked, adding, "It cannot be a one-man show."

Congratulating Azad for taking the bold decision, he said a conscientious and sincere leader cannot compromise on principles and dignity.

"It is a particular set of people with a particular set of vested interests that has started the rot," he said, adding that the senior leaders who withstood so many storms from time to time and stood by the party are being forced to leave.

Amarinder Singh condemned the alleged malicious statements made by Congress leaders against Azad.

"Instead of levelling baseless charges against him, you should introspect as why this exodus is turning non-stop and terminal," he said.

Azad's decision to resign from the party has been one of "Congress todo (breaking the Congress)" instead of "Congress jodo (uniting the Congress)", senior party leader Digvijaya Singh said on Friday.

Azad's shock move came a couple of days ahead of a virtual meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making body in the party, to approve the exact schedule of the organisational polls.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi will preside over the CWC meeting on Sunday.

Azad ended his five-decade-long association with the Congress, saying the party has been "comprehensively destroyed" and lashing out at Rahul Gandhi for "demolishing" its entire consultative mechanism.

Singh, who heads the Congress committee organising the "Bharat Jodo Yatra" from Kanyakumari to Kashmir starting September 7, slammed Azad for his remarks that before starting the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the party leadership should have undertaken a "Congress jodo" exercise across the country.

"You may have relations with those who abrogated Article 370 (of the Constitution), you may have developed close ties with them. You have written that Congress jodo is needed and in the same letter, you are saying there is no need for Bharat jodo. Instead of Congress jodo, your step has been for Congress todo and I strongly condemn it," Singh said.

"You have taken this step when Sonia Gandhi, whose family gave you everything, has gone abroad for treatment. I did not expect this from you. The Congress has given you everything and in these critical times, you should stand with the party," he added.

The former Madhya Pradesh chief minister said he hoped all Congress workers will strongly condemn Azad's decision and resolutely participate in the "Bharat Jodo Yatra".

"The way divisions are being created, atrocities are being committed against minorities, Dalits and Adivasis -- at that time, you are leaving the party. I am saddened. I did not expect this from you," Singh said.

Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said, "Disappointed to see Sri Azad resign from the Congress. Leaving at this juncture will only strengthen the very fascist forces which is out to destroy the social fabric and Constitution of India. A better decision should have been taken keeping the interest of the nation in mind."

ALSO READ | Key points from Ghulam Nabi Azad's letter of resignation from Congress

"When the country is facing difficult times, Congress leaders and workers need to stay united and strengthen the party despite any differences. Our actions should not weaken the Congress movement, which has always stood by the nation in turbulent times," he said.

All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir Rajani Patil also launched a scathing attack on Azad, saying "Soch se shayad ghulam hi rahe honge, tabhi aaj khud ko azad samajh rahe hain (perhaps he must have been a slave in his thinking, that is why he is considering himself free today)."

"Enjoyed power for years and left his own people for opportunism at a time of struggle, this thinking reflects the feeling of slavery and deceit," she said.

Congress's Rajya Sabha MP Shaktisinh Gohil also lashed out at Azad, saying it was the party that made him a "hero from zero".

"He got everything and when he was retiring from the Rajya Sabha, instead of accepting that, he may have fallen in the trap of the crocodile tears shed by (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi.

Modi was being sarcastic against the party but Azad never refuted him (during his farewell in Parliament)," Gohil said.

In a tweet, Congress general secretary Randeep Surjewala hit out at Azad, saying "1980 to 2021 -- Continuous enjoyment of power under four generations of Gandhis (24 years Union Minister - J&K CM - 35 yrs GS), yet the same people and system is to be blamed in a vicious manner in the end. Tells a lot about character of the person and sense of gratitude for the Party."

Meanwhile, hours after Azad quit the Congress, eight senior party leaders including three former ministers resigned the party's primary membership, with sources indicating they may form a new party soon.

More leaders, perceived to be close to Azad, are contemplating resigning, the sources said.

Former ministers R S Chib, G M Saroori and Abdul Rashid; former MLAs Mohammad Amin Bhat, Gulzar Ahmad Wani and Choudhary Mohammad Akram; former MLC Naresh Gupta and party leader Salman Nizami have resigned in Azad's support, sources said.

"Over the years as a member of the Congress Party, it has been my sincere endeavour to work for the betterment of my State - Jammu & Kashmir. I feel that in the prevailing circumstances, the Congress Party has lost its momentum in contributing towards the future of my State."

"Keeping in view the turmoil that the State of J&K has witnessed over the past decades, the people require a decisive leader like Azad to guide them towards a better future. I feel that the Congress Party has not been able to play the role that is expected of it," Chib said in his resignation letter addressed to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Saroori, a former vice president of J&K unit of Congress, along with several other leaders met Azad in Delhi before submitting their resignation from the party, the sources said.

"Azad is a popular leader who served Congress for the last 50 years. He is a known face across the country for his contribution towards the national building," Saroori told reporters after holding a meeting with Azad at his Delhi residence.

Earlier, Saroori uploaded a joint resignation letter on his social media account, announcing Rashid, Bhat, Wani and Akram were quitting the party.

"He cannot stay out of politics. His services are needed in J&K and we are sure that he will be the next chief minister of the state (UT). People of J&K also love their leaders and are ready to give any sacrifice for him," Saroori said, dropping enough hints that Azad is likely to float his own party.

Most of the Congress leaders, who are seen to be loyal to Azad, have already reached New Delhi and are camping there.

The sources indicated the veteran Congress leader is likely to float a new party next month as the union territory prepares for the first Assembly elections since the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019.

The sources said former deputy chief minister Tara Chand, former MP Jugal Kishore Sharma and Muneer Ahmad Mir from Kupwara are also mulling to resign from the Congress.

The leaders are also considered close confidants of Azad, the sources said.

"We, the senior party leaders, are holding a meeting in the aftermath of the new developments. We will be meeting Azad sahib as well," Chand said.

Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Prithviraj Chavan on Friday said the party shouldn't have a "puppet president", but one who has been duly elected.

Talking to reporters, Chavan said the elected president should be assisted by leaders chosen by Congress workers in the forthcoming organizational polls in the functioning of the party.

ALSO READ | Azad's resignation letter similar to the one I wrote when leaving Congress: Himanta Sarma

The former Maharashtra chief minister lamented the party hadn't held organizational polls for the last 24 years.

Asked about Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad resigning from the party, Chavan termed the veteran politician's exit as unfortunate.

He said Azad was the party's senior-most leader and a secular face.

Chavan, who is part of the 'G23' dissident group that had demanded internal reforms in the organization in a letter to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in August 2020, said the intention behind the confidential missive was to protect the party's interest and strengthen it, but the signatories were criticized and targeted.

Azad, a former Union minister, was a prominent member of the 'G23' bloc.

He said the Congress would make a "historic blunder" if it doesn't come up with a good alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Chavan said maintaining a status quo in the party is not good for the Congress, which is out of power at the Centre since 2014.

"It was not right time (for Azad) to leave the party," former J-K minister and senior Congress leader Yogesh Sawhney told reporters soon after a meeting held at the party headquarters in Jammu.

He said Azad should rethink on his decision.

"Entire top party leadership is out of country. Azad sahib should think over his resignation," Sawhney said.

Asked whether it was a setback for the party, he said Azad's resignation has not been accepted yet.

Replying to another question whether Azad has revolted against the party leadership by openly expressing his opposition to its decisions, Sawhney said, "He (Azad) is better to explain his point of view. I cannot speak for him."

Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit on Friday expressed dismay and a "sense of betrayal" over Ghulam Nabi Azad's resignation from the party, and said quitting strengthens the policies, systems and people that made them write the "letter of reform".

Dikshit, a former party MP, was part of the G23 leaders who had written to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in August 2020 for an organisational overhaul and reforms, saying it was a "banner of reform and not a banner of revolt".

"When I read your letter of resignation, it gave me a sense of dismay and unfortunately, then a sense of betrayal," he wrote to Azad.

His letter came soon after senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad resigned from all party positions, including its primary membership, ahead of organisational elections and accused the leadership of committing "fraud" on the party in the name of "sham" internal polls.

In his letter, Sandeep Dikshit, son of former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, told Azad that he has known him in his capacity as a citizen of India, Congress sympathiser, Congress worker and then as Congress MP.

He said he had great respect for Azad's work and ability.

"I wholeheartedly and in full agreement signed the letter that you had written to the Congress president, and became a part of what some media people called the G23.

"The matter we raised in that letter, and the spirit in which many of us signed it and many others supported what was written in it, was in many ways a pathway to revitalise this greatest of political parties, that lies, as you say in your letter also, in its darkest abyss today.

But to my mind, we, and I in it, had raised the banner of reform, not a banner of revolt," the former Delhi MP said.

He said that by joining the signatories to the letter, he knew quite well that along with his constant public articulation of how he believed the Congress should strengthen itself, "I will never ever have a personal political future in it".

The Delhi Congress leader said it was his great hope that both the weight of the suggestions and the commitment towards the party of the signatories made this a worthwhile exercise.

Noting that the fight to "retain the true spirit and mind of our great nation" was the real goal of the battle for reviving the Congress, he said, "Therefore it was equally important to remain inside the party, fight both policy and people, whichever and whoever we believe had and were damaging the party."

"But leaving the party, unfortunately, strengthens the very policies, systems and people that made us write our letter of reform as a demand, as a duty and as our right.

The Indian National Congress will be that much weaker without Ghulam Nabi Azad, but the Ghulam Nabi Azad who authores the G23 letter, not the Ghulam Nabi Azad who authored this resignation," Dikshit said in his letter to Azad.

The Congress on Friday appointed leaders to coordinate the media activities of the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' in the states from where it will pass and said "Azad or no Azad" the organisational machinery moves ahead with determination.

Congress media department head Pawan Khera said the party has approved the names of the people who will coordinate the media activities of the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' in states from where the "historic" yatra will be crossing.

Congress' Bharat Jodo Yatra which will traverse from Kanyakumari to Kashmir will start on September 7.

"Azad or no Azad, the Congress organisational machine moves ahead with determination. The first list of state-wise media & publicity in-charges and coordinators for Bharat Jodo Yatra," Khera tweeted, referring to senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad's decision to resign from the party on Friday.

"Bharat Jodo Yatra is not an event but a movement to bring together the people, from all walks of life, against the several evils that are plaguing the country today," Khera said in his statement sharing the list of people appointed as coordinators for the Yatra.

ALSO READ | Azad's resignation from party unfortunate: Congress leader Bhupinder Hooda

"The party and the leadership have high hopes and immense faith in you to promulgate the spirit of the Yatra amongst the people of India," he said to the people chosen to helm the yatra's publicity.

According to the list, Shama Mohamed was named in charge of Tamil Nadu and Dolly Sharma for Andhra Pradesh.

Lavanya Balal would be in-charge for Kerala, Szarita Laitphlang for Karnataka, S V Ramani for Telangana, Alka Lamba for Jammu and Kashmir, Shobha Oza for Maharashtra, Vibhakar Shastri for Rajasthan, Anshul Avijeet for Punjab, and Ragini Nayak for Madhya Pradesh.

Coordinators were also appointed for media activities in states from where the Yatra will pass.

(With PTI Inputs)

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