Asked about his reaction to the award, Azad told TOI, “It is an honour that is provided in the Constitution, It is good to be recognised for one’s public service even by a government of the other side.” The former leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha also thanked colleague and party MP Shashi Tharoor for his compliments on the award.
Azad is a prominent face of the dissident G-23 group. Significantly, Anand Sharma, another G-23 figure and party’s deputy leader in Rajya Sabha, welcomed the honour for the former J&K CM. “Congrats to Azad for this richly deserved recognition for his invaluable lifelong contribution to public service and parliamentary democracy,” he said.
However, others in the party seemed to differ. Tagging a news report about Bhattacharjee’s “no” to the award, Congress chief whip in Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh sarcastically tweeted, “Right thing to do. He wants to be Azad, not Ghulam.” The word play on the name of Congress leader Azad was hard to miss, in what was seen as a dig.
Right thing to do. He wants to be Azad not Ghulam. https://t.co/iMWF00S9Ib
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) 1643128880000
Azad enjoys a special rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi who broke down while praising him when the latter’s term in Rajya Sabha came to an end.
Ramesh’s reaction was widely viewed as the Congress’ cold shoulder to the Padma award for its senior leader, with many expressing an expectation from Azad to follow Bhattacharjee‘s cue and turn down the recognition extended by the BJP government.
Azad did not seem fazed by the controversy and scotched speculation that he has removed his Congress affiliation from his Twitter profile. “Some mischievous propaganda being circulated by some people to create confusion . Nothing has been removed or added to my Twitter profile. The profile is as it was earlier,” he tweeted.