Cong leaders cross party line on Article 370, ex-law minister takes the lead
In disarray for over two months now over the leadership crisis, the Congress has even failed to put up a united front on the government’s move to scrap the Article 370 with the grand old party vertically divided on the issue.
Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal opposed the move in the Rajya Sabha but discordant voices outside embarrassed the already rudderless party. This prompted Azad to say: “Jin logon ko J&K ki history ya Congress ki history pata nahi unse mujhe koi lena dena nahi hai. Wo pehle J&K aur Congress ki history padh lein, phir Congress mein rahein (I have nothing to do with those who don’t know the history of Congress and J&K. They should first read the history of J&K and Congress and then stay in Congress),” reports ANI.
Monday started on a bad note for the Congress with its chief whip in the Rajya Sabha Bhubaneswar Kalita, resigning over his party’s stand saying it was committing suicide by opposing the abrogation of Article 370 that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
Watch: Article 370 abrogation splits Congress, leaders speak in multiple voices
In a letter, he said the party leadership had asked him to issue a whip but he felt that the “whip was against the nation’s sentiments”. Thus, Kalita said, he decided to resign from the party.
In the evening, veteran leader Janardan Dwivedi took a stand contrary to the line the party had taken in the Upper House. He backed the government move, saying Article 370 was a “mistake of history” which had been corrected.
“My mentor Ram Manohar Lohia was against Article 370 from the start. My personal view is that this is a matter of national satisfaction. A mistake made during independence has been corrected, even if belatedly,” he said.
Mumbai Congress president Milind Deora, who had offered to step down from the post, also called for putting aside political differences while adding that India’s interest should be prioritised.
“Unfortunate that Article 370 is being converted into liberal versus conservative debate. Parties should put aside ideological fixations and debate what’s best for India’s sovereignty, peace in Jammu and Kashmir, jobs for Kashmiri youth and justice for Kashmiri Pandits” he tweeted.
Former Congress MP Deepender Hooda also tweeted his support for the move. “My personal view is that there isn’t a need to have Article 370 in the 21st century. The move is not only in the interest of the country but also for the benefit of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India. It is the responsibility of the government to implement the move in a peaceful environment,” he wrote.
Senior leader and former law minister Ashwani Kumar called the move a “daring resolve” in line with the mood of the nation. “Abrogation of special status for J&K: Consistent with the overwhelming mood of the nation. A demonstration of daring resolve though history alone will attest to its wisdom,” he tweeted.
Similarly, party spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill, Rae Bareli legislator Aditi Singh and Rajasthan minister Ashok Chandna too supported the government’s decision.
Though Congress leaders attributed the remarks by Deora and Hooda to “well-crafted strategy” in view of the upcoming assembly elections in their home states of Maharashtra and Haryana respectively, these leaders clearly left the party red faced in Parliament and outside.
As a counter to what was billed as the “historic move” by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress fielded its most-senior leaders to drive home the message that the revoking Article 370, which had been on the ruling party’s agenda for decades, was driven by it ideology and not, national interest.
While Chidambaram called it a “black day” in constitutional history of India, Azad said the BJP revoked Article 370 for votes and was playing with unity and integrity of Jammu and Kashmir.
The party faced embarrassment on the other front too. Its leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury created a flutter in the Lok Sabha with his remarks that left Congress parliamentary party (CPP) chairperson Sonia Gandhi shocked.
“You say that it (Jammu and Kashmir) is an internal matter. But it is being monitored by the United Nations since 1948. Is that an internal matter? We signed the Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration with Pakistan. Was that an internal matter or bilateral?” he said.
A stunned Sonia Gandhi turned back to look at her party members, wondering at Chowdhury’s remarks.
India has always maintained that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India.
Also during the discussion on the bills and resolutions related to Jammu and Kashmir in the Lok Sabha, Congress member Manish Tewari appeared guarded in his speech. He spoke against the manner in which the government carried out its move.
At the end of his speech, home minister Amit Shah countered Tewari by asking him clarify his party’s stand on the issue. “I just want a little bit of clarity from Manishji. He didn’t say whether the Congress supports the abrogation of Article 370 or not. Please make this clear,” Shah said.
To this, Tewari replied, “Angreezi ki ek kitaab hai... har cheez kaali ya safed nahi hoti. (There is a book in English... everything is not black or white). There are 50 shades of grey in between.”
While Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have stayed away from commenting on the issue, Rahul Gandhi broke his silence on the matter on Tuesday.
“National integration isn’t furthered by unilaterally tearing apart J&K, imprisoning elected representatives and violating our Constitution. This nation is made by its people, not plots of land. This abuse of executive power has grave implications for our national security,” he tweeted.
The Congress has now called an emergency meeting of its working committee on Tuesday evening to firm up a united stand on the government’s move.