The Padma Bhushan for Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad has once again spotlighted the sharp divide within the party, with leaders of the "G-23" or group of 23 "rebels" and Gandhi family supporters sparring openly.
Former Union Minister Anand Sharma is the latest Congress veteran to wish Ghulam Nabi Azad for being awarded the country's third highest honour.
"Heartiest congratulations to Ghulam Nabi ji for well-deserved recognition of his lifelong enriching contribution to public service and Parliamentary democracy," Mr Sharma tweeted.
Heartiest congratulations to Ghulam Nabi ji for well deserved recognition of his lifelong enriching contribution to public service and Parliamentary democracy. @ghulamnazad— Anand Sharma (@AnandSharmaINC) January 26, 2022
His colleague Kapil Sibal was more direct. "Ghulam Nabi Azad conferred Padam Bhushan. Congratulations bhaijan. Ironic that the Congress doesn't need his services when the nation recognises his contributions to public life," Mr Sibal tweeted.
Ghulam Nabi Azad conferred Padam Bhushan— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) January 26, 2022
Ironic that the Congress doesn't need his services when the nation recognises his contributions to public life
Another Congress leader, Raj Babbar, said in a glowing post:
Congratulations @ghulamnazad Sahab !— Raj Babbar (@RajBabbar23) January 25, 2022
You're like an elder brother and your impeccable public life & commitment to Gandhian ideals have always been an inspiration. The #PadmaBhushan is an ideal recognition of 5 decades of your meticulous service to the nation.
The Congress leadership has not formally reacted to the announcement.
But shortly after the list of Padma award winners came out, Jairam Ramesh aimed at his colleague using the phrase "Ghulam, not Azad (enslaved, not free)".
Mr Ramesh also referred to CPM's Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, former Bengal Chief Minister, rejecting his Padma Bhushan.
"Former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee declines the Padma Bhushan award. Right thing to do. He wants to be Azad not Ghulam," Mr Ramesh tweeted.
Right thing to do. He wants to be Azad not Ghulam. https://t.co/iMWF00S9Ib— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) January 25, 2022
He also shared 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 (Prime Minister's Office). Here is PN Haksar's response to it. It is a classic, and worthy of emulation," his caption read.
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. pic.twitter.com/H1JVTvTyxe— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) January 25, 2022
Later, amid reports that he had changed his Twitter bio - usually a sign of imminent exit - Mr Azad put out a denial and blamed "mischievous propaganda".
"Some mischievous propaganda is 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," Mr Azad tweeted.
Mr Azad, Mr Sibal and Mr Sharma are all part of the Congress "G-23", a group that wrote to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 complaining about a leadership drift and calling for big reforms in the organisation.
The letter bomb split the Congress down the middle and defined what had previously been muted criticism of the Gandhis and the party's inability to win elections over the past four years.
The Padma award row surfaced on a day the Congress lost another big leader to the BJP, just weeks before high-stakes elections in five states including Uttar Pradesh.
RPN Singh, a former minister in the Manmohan Singh government, quit the Congress saying the party was "no longer what it used to be".
Mr Singh is the third member of "Team Rahul" - the younger leaders who were part of Rahul Gandhi's inner circle - to quit over the past three years. In 2020, Jyotiraditya Scindia switched to the BJP and last year, another key UP leader Jitin Prasada followed that route.