Veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Friday placed himself at the disposal of the party ahead of elections in five states, amid turmoil within the 135-year-old outfit that has pitted apparent dissenters like him against the Gandhis and their loyalists.
“We will be going to campaign for the party and candidates in the five states. That is the priority and to ensure the win of the Congress. This I am saying on behalf of my colleagues in the party,” he said, in reference to the 23-odd leaders who have called for reforms and have been dubbed “G-23”.
“Wherever the candidate or party whomsoever calls us to campaign… for the next two months that will be our focus,” Mr Azad said.
The 71-year-old reiterated that his comments on Prime Minister Narendra Modi that were seen as praise and renewed the row with Congress were misunderstood. “I did not praise the PM there was a context to it,” he said.
Late last month, at a public meeting in Jammu where he and other Congress dissidents held a meeting, Mr Azad’s comments had surprised many.
“I like lots of things about many leaders. I’m from a village and I feel proud of it. Even our PM (Narendra Modi) is from a village and used to sell tea. We’re political rivals but I appreciate that he doesn’t hide his true self. Those who do are living in a bubble,” Mr Azad had said.
The remarks came weeks after PM Modi’s emotional farewell when the Congress leader retired from the Rajya Sabha.
Just after Mr Azad’s jaw-dropper, came another G-23 leader Anand Sharma’s attack on the party’s decision to tie up with a Muslim cleric’s party in Bengal.
“Congress’s alliance with the ISF and similar parties goes against its core ideology, and the secularism advocated by Gandhi and Nehru, which is the soul of the Congress. These issues should have been discussed by the Congress Working Committee (CWC),” Mr Sharma tweeted, adding that the Congress’s fight against communalism could not be selective.
This sparked a full-blown war with one of the Gandhi loyalists Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who is the Congress president in Bengal, saying Congressmen who are accusing the party of breaching secularism are those who “have already extracted their own pound of flesh“.
The G-23, or the 23 letter writers who called for a “full-time and visible leadership” in the Congress, apparently targeting the Gandhis, have been critical of the party’s performance in elections and poll strategies.