Jairam Ramesh tweeted, "Right thing to do. He wants to be Azad not Ghulam".
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad's name in the Padma lists announced on the eve of the 73rd Republic Day evoked mixed reactions from party colleagues this evening. While Shashi Tharoor gave the news an unambiguous welcome, a jibe came from Jairam Ramesh.
Retweeting the news of Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee declining the Padma award, Mr Ramesh tweeted, "Right thing to do. He wants to be Azad not Ghulam".
Both Mr Azad and Mr Bhattacharjee were conferred the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award. But while there was no response from the Congress leader, Mr Bhattacharjee --- an arch-critic of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- promptly issued a statement declining the award.
"I don't know anything about the Padma Bhushan. No one has told me anything about it. If indeed they have given me the Padma Bhushan, then I reject it," read Mr Bhattacharjee's statement issued in Bengali.
Minutes earlier, Mr Ramesh had tweeted a passage from a book about former bureaucrat PN Haksar's refusal of the award.
"In Jan 1973, the most powerful civil servant of our country was told he was being offered the Padma Vibhushan on his leaving the PMO. Here is PN Haksar's response to it. It is a classic, and worthy of emulation," his caption read.
Public refusal of Padma awards is extremely rare, since the awardees are mandatorily informed about the award in advance and the list is announced only after their acceptance.
In this instance, home ministry officials explained the flub saying Mr Bhattacharjee's wife was conveyed the decision on Padma Bhushan and she had thanked the Home Secretary for it.
The announcement of lists comes weeks ahead of a bitterly contested election campaign across five states, including Uttar Pradesh and Congress-ruled Punjab.
It also comes amid turmoil within the Congress over leadership issues. Mr Ramesh and Mr Azad has found themselves in opposing camps. While the leader from Kashmir has been among the party veterans calling sweeping organisational changes and a permanent accountable leadership, Mr Ramesh has been staunch in his support of the Gandhi family.
Mr Azad is the second Congressman to receive a Padma award. In 2008, Pranab Mukherjee was given Padma Vibhushan by the government where he was a minister. He received the Bharat Ratna award in 2019.
His party colleague Shashi Tharoor congratulated him soon after the Padma announcements.
"Warm congratulations to Shri @ghulamnazad on his Padma Bhushan. It is good to be recognized for one's public service even by a government of the other side," his tweet read.
The senior leader had hailed Mr Azad as "the only Congressman who has reduced the PM to tears!" during his retirement from Rajya Sabha in February last year.