New Delhi: Former Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Tariq Anwar on Saturday met Congress president Rahul Gandhi at the Tughlaq Lane residence of the latter and joined the party back. Anwar, along with a slew of leaders headed by Sharad Pawar, had left Congress 19 years ago.

This was a low-key but significant induction. Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot and Shaktisinh Gohil were present on the occasion. Soon, the Congress official handle on Twitter confirmed the news.

Congress President @RahulGandhi welcomes Shri @itariqanwar into the Congress family.

Anwar quit the NCP in September, complaining he was “hurt by Pawar saheb’s comments”. The NCP chief had supported Narendra Modi on the issue of the Rafale deal.

When Anwar called Sonia foreigner

A section of the then Congress top leadership was uncomfortable with the idea of Sonia Gandhi becoming the prime ministerial candidate in 1999, which led to the creation of the NCP. A faction led by Pawar started opposing Sonia Gandhi’s accession as party president on the ground of her foreign origin. Soon, the issue gathered steam with leaders like Tariq Anwar and PA Sangma extending their support to Pawar. Dealing a final blow to the Congress, they quit the party and formed the Nationalist Congress Party.

That stormy CWC meeting

It was May 15, 1999. The Congress Working Committee had one main agenda — poll alliances. But it was hardly discussed. A Congress that swears by the Gandhi surname saw an unexpected rebellion, with PA Sangma questioning Sonia Gandhi’s ancestry point blank. What’s interesting, all this was happening after the episode of Sitaram Kesri, a Congress president who was forcibly ousted to create a space for a Gandhi — Sonia Gandhi. Little did the CWC see this coming. If Sangma started it, Tariq Anwar, the man who returned to the Congress fold after 19 years on October 27, seconded him. A Kesri protégé, Anwar never forgot the insult his mentor had to bear with. So, provided with this opportunity to question the foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi, Anwar chose to side with Sangma and the architect of the rebellion, Pawar. Sonia stormed out of the meeting and the rebellion was complete. However, with a solid line up of Gandhi family loyalists like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmad Patel, Pranab Mukherjee and RK Dhawan strongly backing Sonia, quitting the party was the only option for Anwar & Co.

Why after 19 years?

The NCP has long lost the relevance of being a separate party with its ideologies matching the Congress’s, and its manifesto reflecting many facets of the Congress manifesto. With time healing the wounds, even Pawar went on record to state that the NCP and Congress were hardly different. But Anwar was never, many from the Congress’s old guard say, too much into the Italian origin of Sonia as he felt insignificant and marginalised.

Joining the NCP bandwagon was an expression of that feeling for him. Even back in December 2017, Anwar, who had seconded Sangma in that CWC meeting, regretted his decision. In an interview to news agency UNI, he said, “Woh ek galat faisla tha (that was a wrong decision).”

Today as Anwar walked into 12 Tughlaq Lane, the residence of the man, the scene was surreal. As they say, in politics, nothing is permanent. Today he is a Congressman once again. He will be working under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi — whose mother the former rebel had questioned 19 years ago.