Congress leader P Chidambaram’s advocacy of greater autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir prompted a fierce attack on the party by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who today accused it of “shamelessly” lending its voice to calls for “Kashmir’s azadi”. The National Conference, which ruled the restive state for several decades and is now the main opposition, meanwhile, passed a resolution, vowing to continue its struggle for restoration of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir in its “original, pristine form”. It also asked both India and Pakistan to initiate a “sustained and comprehensive” dialogue to resolve the Kashmir imbroglio. “All of a sudden, those who were in power till yesterday have taken a U-turn. Shamelessly, they are making a statement and are lending their voice for Kashmir’s azadi,” Modi told BJP workers in Bengaluru. Chidambaram, a former Union home minister, had said in poll-bound Gujarat’s Rajkot yesterday that when people of Jammu and Kashmir ask for “azadi”, most of them mean they want greater autonomy. “The demand in the Kashmir Valley is to respect the letter and spirit of Article 370, that means they want greater autonomy. My interactions in J&K led me to the conclusion that when they ask for azadi, mostly, I am not saying all… the overwhelming majority, they want autonomy.” “Yes, I do,” Chidambaram said when he was asked if he still thinks that Jammu and Kashmir should be given greater autonomy. Under scathing attack from the prime minister, Chidambaram said in New Delhi today that Modi imagined a “ghost and was attacking it”.
Chidambaram said it was obvious that the prime minister had not read the whole answer to the question put to him on Jammu and Kashmir at the Rajkot event. “Those who criticise must read the whole answer and tell me which word in the answer was wrong. The PM is imagining a ghost and attacking it,” he told PTI here. Observing that granting such autonomy will be “perfectly within the Constitution of India”, Chidambaram also said yesterday, “Jammu and Kashmir will remain an integral part of India but it will have larger powers as promised under Article 370”. Without taking Chidambaram’s name, the prime minister said, “I am surprised that those who were in power at the Centre, those who were responsible for the country’s internal security and national security (are saying this).” Modi said the country had no hope or expectations from the Congress. Noting that Sardar Patel took important decisions for the country’s unity, he said thousands of jawans have sacrificed their lives for Kashmir. “The country’s soldiers have sacrificed their lives every moment for the sake of security of the motherland and innocent citizens of Kashmir. “I want to ask the people of Bengaluru, can the country benefit from such people who are playing politics on the sacrifice of our soldiers? They don’t have any shame in saying this. The Congress party will have to give an answer for this (Chidambaram’s) statement,” he said.
In his impassioned speech, Modi said, “Those bravehearts who have sacrificed their lives, mothers who have lost their sons for the country…that mother is asking the question, that sister who has lost her brother is asking the question, and the child who has lost his father is asking the question.” But, he said, the Congress was “shamelessly using such language as is used by the separatists in Kashmir. (They are) using the language that is spoken by Pakistan.” Chidambaram had in July 2016 advocated greater autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir, saying India should restore the “grand bargain” under which Kashmir had acceded by granting a large degree of autonomy to it. He had warned that otherwise the country will have to pay a “heavy price”. The Congress, however, sought to distance itself from the remarks of Chidambaram on Kashmir, saying the “opinion of an individual is not necessarily the opinion of the party”. Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had said Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and “will always remain so unquestionably.” As the issue of greater autonomy for the state came alive once again, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference pledged to continue its struggle for its full restoration as enshrined in the Constitution of India.
“We continue to strive for the restoration of autonomy and restoration of Article 370 to its original, pristine form, while condemning those divisive voices who are opposed to the sovereign constitutional guarantees extended to the people of the state,” the resolution passed at a delegates’ session of the National Conference in Srinagar said. Calling for a political initiative, the party said singular focus on military and operational mechanism to deal with the Kashmir issue was a “dangerous” approach and continued to alienate the people. “We urge both India and Pakistan to initiate a sustained, sustainable and comprehensive dialogue process to resolve all outstanding issues,” it said. NC president Farooq Abdullah and working president Omar Abdullah were present at the delegates’ session held after a gap of 15 years. Thousands of delegates from all three regions of the state attended the conclave.
The resolution said the party always worked within the Constitution in which the state’s special status was enshrined. It said the Kashmir issue should be resolved through a sustained dialogue with both internal and external stakeholders, an apparent reference to separatists and Pakistan. “The recently announced initiative through a representative of the Government of India should have clarity and seriousness of purpose to ensure the sanctity of the institution of dialogue is restored and upheld,” the party resolution said.