Ghulam Nabi Azad on the downward slide of the grand old Congress Party

Abhilash Khandekar

by Ghulam Nabi Azad
CATEGORY: Biographies & Memoirs
FORMAT: Hardback
PRICE: 795

Book Review

Reviewing a politician’s autobiography is a genre that is invariably fraught with its own inherent dangers. First, you have to fully trust the politician who’s penned his own story stretching over many decades. Second, and more important, is that you have to read between the lines and ascertain if he or she is not settling personal (political) scores through the book. In most cases, statements or facts also relate to those figures who have either gone from this world or are in no position to offer any rebuttal, and therefore, they raise a question mark in the minds of the readers.

Having read and reviewed many autobiographies, I have found some of them were insipid, while many were either scholarly and credible works or were pregnant with controversies. Such biographical works by politician-turned-authors, also end up enriching the reader.

The autobiography under review is that of a towering former Congress leader, who is now the supremo of a little known Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) belongs to the last category. The recently launched book, Azad—An Autobiography, by Rupa Publications, has quickly stirred a Hornet’s nest for whatever he has written and claimed. His interviews, post the launch, have been vehemently criticized and his former partymen have refuted his allegations.

While Azad has quit Congress last year, his public image as the headman of a new political outfit is yet to get established and he is till carrying the baggage of the Indian National Congress (INC) of which he has been a well-known face.

When Ghulam Nabi Azad who confesses to be a true Gandhian (sic) started writing his biography, it was generally accepted in political circles that it would have anti-Congress, anti-Gandhi family tone and tenor. Having snapped his 50-year-old bond with Congress party in August 2022 in just one stroke, Azad has made himself ‘Azad’ (free) from all earlier trappings with the INC and has now turned into its bitter critic, notwithstanding the respect, power and ‘perks’ he got as central minister and party functionary for long years. Of late, that is being considered as a ‘new normal’ in Indian politics.

In the 300-odd page racy volume, the J&K politician with strong political links with Maharashtra, has narrated a number of anecdotes from his long and eventful political career that provided him an almost unmatched position, something either Pranab Mukherjee or Narasimha Rao may have enjoyed. Since Azad almost always was a national level politician having worked under PMs—Indira Gandhi (as deputy minister in 1982-83), Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, certainly must be carrying with him a plethora of secrets about the working of successive governments and politics of his times.

Some of them he has disclosed in this book perhaps for the first time and, has drawn instant flak from his erstwhile party colleagues. However, if readers had expected a bombshell to be dropped on Congress leadership, that has not happened. Azad appears to be a very careful author—hiding more than what he ends up disclosing.

The Kashmiri leader’s relations with Gandhi family have been souring gradually; he is now seen inching closer to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, post the Padma Bhushan conferred upon him by Modi Government in 2022. The author has shown the Gandhi family in poor light throughout—mainly Sonia and Rahul – and holds them squarely responsible for party’s unending downslide. But Azad is a die-hard fan of Indira Gandhi, the ‘charismatic leader’. At one place he states: “she had, even after her electoral loss, remained in touch with people and did not bother about security, lodging and boarding”—an obvious dig at Rahul who keeps slipping out of the country even during Parliament sessions.

Azad was first given a ticket by Indira Gandhi to contest his maiden election from Washim Lok Sabha constituency in Maharashtra. The Kashmiri boy was then Indian Youth Congress (IYC) general secretary and in-charge of Maharashtra. The ticket reference has an interesting insight, according to the author. That was the time when Indira Gandhi had just started taking decisions about ticket distribution herself, otherwise “it was YB Chavan who used to distribute all the seats (of Maharashtra)’’, says the author, adding, “all SC tickets were taken care of by Jagjivan Ram”.

Many years later, Azad lost due to Sudhakar Naik, former Maharashtra CM who was fighting from adjoining constituency of Washim, once held by Azad; Naik supporters had spread a canard against Azad, the candidate from Yavatmal, that led to his defeat in 1996 when Narasimha Rao was the PM. Azad, a former CM of J&K, was also a member of RS from Maharashtra for few terms.

The author names many top leaders, with whom he shared good relations and held them in high esteem, including Madhavrao Scindia from MP, Sharad Pawar from Maharashtra, besides Gandhi brothers Sanjay and Rajiv. As the leader of Opposition in the Upper House of Parliament, he had struck good rapport with leaders outside Congress, who had helped him in floor management at times. “Madhavro was honest and a straightforward politician”, Azad recalls of the incident when Scindia resigned after an aircraft crash in which no one had died. PM Rao wanted Azad to convince his friend to withdraw his resignation but Scindia was firm in his stand.

In the chapter ‘ The Grand Old Party: Bloopers and Bombast’ without naming Rahul Gandhi, Azad makes an interesting observation: “…parties, hotels and holidays were all alien to us unlike the leaders of the present generation, who like to attend parties, and go on holidays abroad at the slightest opportunity. I believe BJP is happy to face this kind of ‘opposition’ which hardly poses any challenge.”

Having said that, he has reeled off instances to illustrate how Rahul and Sonia, at times together and at times individually, have rocked the boat of the Congress party with decisions that have led to disastrous results. He mentions the full story of Assam where while Sonia first agreed to make Himanta Biswa Sarma the CM replacing Tarun Gogoi, she then wilted under Rahul’s independent decision to side with Gogoi. “The exit of one capable person sounded the death-knell for the party in the entire region of North East”.

Azad has enlisted such ‘bloopers and bombast’ from different states, including Karnataka, Goa, Manipur, Punjab, UP and West Bengal. citing his first-hand information, knowledge and advices to party leadership that allowed ‘self-destruction in states’. Reading this book provides one a much better understanding of the goings-on inside the grand old party which was in power for 55 years out of 75 years since Independence and has shrunk dratically post-Modi’s magic that began in 2014. He has some kind words for Modi, naturally, because they have known each other for decades.

Azad, who was a leading member of the dissident group G-23, concludes by stating: “The root cause for the Congress’ downfall is that it destroys its own potential leaders at national and state levels by projecting parallel, incapable leadership against them. Sycophancy has taken the center stage in the party and no one wants to listen to the bitter truth”.

Abhilash Khandekar is a veteran political analyst and has worked in New Delhi as the National Political Editor of Dainik Bhaskar group.


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