Azad in the thick of activity

Anil Anand
There is nothing new with politicians knowingly or unknowingly creating controversies and then using the situation so generated to the best of their political advantage. This phenomenon becomes more pronounced if the elections season is at hand.
But if the leader happens to be of the stature of Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad who has seen and withered many a political storms during his long career, it assumes added significance and but natural generates more curiosity. His comment, if not comparison, related to ideological similarities between the Islamist ISIS and the Hindu-centric RSS naturally had the potential not only to rake a controversy but also strong sense of curiosity since Mr Azad is not known for either political ebullience or is garrulous in his political disposition.
In the political sense of the term Mr Azad’s comments made at Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind conference where he drew parallels between ISIS and the RSS, in a limited sense, only explains the political expediency behind it and more than that the new role he has assumed in Congress. Without any doubt Mr Azad is among the senior-most leaders of the party trying to steer the age-old organisation out of the current political mess. There has been an added significance to his role as Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha where Congress plays a balancing act due to its numbers.
Mr Azad had never been known as a hardliner Muslim leader and a clear testimony to this effect is that being chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state of India, he steadfastly refused to be drawn into the mould of a typical community leader. His disposition was always nation and not community or Kashmir-centric which is quite contrary to what his predecessors including the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed felt and believed.
So did Mr Azad seem to assume upon himself the sobriquet of Muslim leader when he sought to “compare” ISIS with RSS at a juncture when he is best poised to display his stature and secular credentials as LoP in Rajya Sabha? The answer is no.
Even Mr Azad would not deny that he was invited to attend the Jamiat conference not only in his capacity of being a senior Congress leader but a Muslim one too. It was but natural and so no offences committed either in inviting him or be invited to the gathering. Apart from his presence, Mr Azad had a significant task to read-out Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s message in the midst of raging communal frenzy that mostly targets the minorities.
Ostensibly Mr Azad was fully aware of his multi-layered personality and standing when he rose to address the conference. Of course he could not have avoided his role, though tacitly, as a senior political leader belonging to a minority community, which though not justified but was demand of the hour from Congress perspective. But to be fair to Mr Azad his comparison and resultant attack was only focused on communal tendencies of all hues and colours irrespective of religion and caste.
The developments following his defeat in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, not by a big margin, in the face of a massive Narendra Modi wave, are also a pointer to his further elevated political stature and a tribute to his political acumen. As the LoP in Rajya Sabha Mr Azad is directly pitted against a more formidable opponent, legal luminary, Finance Minister and Leader of the House Mr Arun Jaitley.
From a journalist’s point of view this line-up has for the past over two years made Rajya Sabha an interesting assignment to cover. It is an erudite, scholarly and classy speaker as Mr Jaitley is versus someone who has abundant experience as a politician and parliamentarian. Both have excelled on their respective days but Mr Azad with an advantage of being experienced and in opposition has never let the situation slip out of his hands.
Reverting to the core issue of ISIS versus RSS “comparison”! It is unfathomable given the basic character of the two outfits though they have commonality of views on majoritarianism. But sometimes extraordinary political circumstances lead to unbelievable political arguments to hit the rival where it hurts the most.
To that extent Mr Azad has been successful in rattling his political rivals but not without upsetting many within his own party. There is a strong section within the Congress which feels that the ISIS-RSS “comparison” was ill-advised and it has the potential to recoil in terms of political loss or gain. The obvious reference is towards the majority community which is the prime target of BJP’s strategy of greater polarisation in quest of votes.
Somewhere in the midst of this din created with an eye on the coming elections to five state Assemblies to be followed by all important Uttar Pradesh, the development plank of the Modi Government runs the danger of losing its sheen. The situation was created by the ruling party at the Centre and the others are lapping it up.
The testing of political acumen apart, none could be justified.


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