New Delhi, Feb 9: Outgoing Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday said he is proud to be a Hindustani Muslim and "lucky" that he did not go to Pakistan as the Congress veteran received accolades from leaders across the political spectrum including Prime Minister Narendra Modi who broke down several times recalling their close association.
In his 28-minute farewell speech in the Upper House of Parliament, Azad, 71, recited several couplets and hoped for the restoration of peace in Jammu and Kashmir and the return of Kashmiri Pandits back to the Valley.
Azad was among the four members in the Rajya Sabha who were given an emotional farewell by the House.
He and Nazir Ahmed Laway (PDP) are due to retire on February 15 while the terms of Mir Mohammad Fayaz (PDP) and Shamsher Singh Manhas (BJP) will end on February 10. All are from Jammu and Kashmir.
"When I was a college student in Jammu and Kashmir, both August 14 and August 15 used to be celebrated. The majority used to celebrate August 14. I was among those few fortunate people, about a dozen, who used to celebrate August 15," Azad said. Pakistan's Independence Day is celebrated on August 14.
The former Union minister said he is among those "lucky" people who did not go to Pakistan.
"When I read about the state of affairs in Pakistan, I feel proud that I am a Hindustani Musalman."
Muslims in India should have pride for themselves as they have kept away from the evils that are there in the neighbouring countries, Azad said.
However, he also added: "The majority community should also take two steps forward."
In his speech, Modi said it would be difficult for anyone to fill the shoes of Azad as he cared not only about his political affiliation but also about the country and the House.
"I worry that after Azad whosoever will take over from him will have to fill very big boots because he cared not only about his party but about the country as well as the House. This is not a small thing, this a big thing."
"Power comes and goes but (only a few know) how to digest it...therefore like a friend, I respect him on the basis of the things he has done over these years," Modi said while wiping his tears and saluting Azad.
Reminiscing about their long association, Modi said that as chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat, both of them kept in touch with each other.
Sharing details of their communication during a terror attack on some Gujarati pilgrims in Jammu and Kashmir, Modi said Azad was the first one to call him about the incident.
With tears rolling down his cheeks, Modi said Azad cried on the call while informing him about the horrific attack.
"Azad was the first person to call me. During that call he could not stop crying," the prime minister said with a choked voice as tears rolled down from his eyes.
Azad later went to the airport when the bodies were sent back and kept in touch till the plane landed in Gujarat, he added.
Modi said he believes that Azad's concern for his country won't let him sit and whatever responsibilities he takes in the future would be beneficial for the nation.
"At a personal level, I would request him to not believe that he is not in the House. My door is always open for all of you. I will always expect and value your inputs," he said.
"I will not let you become weak," the prime minister told Azad as he closed his comments.
Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu described Azad as a voice of sanity in public life over few decades when he made valuable contributions while serving both in the government and in the opposition. Azad has been the leader of opposition(LOP) since June 8, 2014.
Remembering his tenure as the chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, Azad said he had convened his first public meeting in the troubled Sopore district, which is unthinkable even today.
"I had said my government would be a government of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and if any minister worked on the basis of religion and party, I would be ashamed."
Azad said he has cried only five times .in his life -- when Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi died, which were sudden, during the tsunami in 1999 and in 2005, when he was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and terrorists had killed Gujarati tourists in a grenade attack on their bus.
Even when his father died, he had tears in his eyes but did not cry, he said.
"Today, I pray to god to finish militancy from this country," Azad said, while pointing out that thousands of police, military and paramilitary personnel have been killed in the battle against terror.
"Several citizens have also been killed in cross-firing and thousands of our daughters and mothers have become widows," he said while hoping that normalcy returns to the Kashmir valley.
Azad also recalled his association with Kashmiri Pandits, who used to vote for him in large numbers during his student union days.
Dedicating a couplet to all those displaced from the valley, he said, "Us ashiyana jo ki is waqt ujda hua hai, uske liye hum sabko prayas karna hai (all of us have to make efforts to restore the nest, which is devastated now)."
Deputy Chairman Harivansh said Azad has connected the entire country with Jammu and Kashmir.
Fayaz in his speech said, "We work for this country. We have taken the flag of the country to villages. It hurts and saddens us when we are called anti-national by the media and others."
In his address, Manhas said: "I come from Kashmir, the mukat mani (crown jewel) of the country, and am sitting among others from the country. I have worked for this mukut mani and will work for it in the future too."
Another retiring member Laway appealed for restoration of statehood for J and K besides rail connectivity.
Praising the LOP, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale said the name may be Ghulam (slave) but all remained Azad (free).
He also said Azad should be elected again to Rajya Sabha and if Congress does not want that then he and his party RPI would do that.
Satish Chandra Misra (BSP) said if Azad's Congress party wants to bid farewell to him then in that case people would bid farewell to the party not him.
Congress leader Anand Sharma said Azad would play an important role in Jammu and Kashmir polls whenever they are held and would continue to provide his services to the nation.