Article 370: How Modi-Shah’s Kashmir Move Divided Congress
Most Congress leaders supporting Modi-Shah’s move to revoke Kashmir’s special status come from Hindi speaking states
Video Producer: Aparna Singh
Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma
The Narendra Modi government’s move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories has received different responses from within the Congress.
While the party opposed the Bill in both Houses of the Parliament, several leaders and party supporters spoke in favour of the move in public as well as on social media. Senior party leader Janardan Dwivedi welcomed the move and said, “This is a matter of national pride, a historical wrong has been rectified.”
Former Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who was until recently the party’s general secretary in-charge for West Uttar Pradesh, said that he supports the government’s move but raised questions about the process which was followed.
Former Union Minister Ashwani Kumar spoke in glowing terms about the government’s decision.
Another former Union Minister Milind Deora urged parties to “Put aside ideological fixations” in what was a clear nod for the Modi government’s move.
Congress leader from Haryana Deepender Singh Hooda said that he was always of the belief that “Article 370 has no place in the 21st century”.
Ashok Chandna, a minister in the Rajasthan government, supported the revocation of Article 370 as well and said, “This is the first move of the Modi government that I support”. Like Scindia and several other leaders who extended their support for the move, he too criticised the government for using autocratic means.
Another Congress leader to welcome the government’s move was Kuldeep Bishnoi from Haryana.
Congress MLA from Raebareli Sadar Aditi Singh also praised the move.
Three patterns could be observed regarding the differences within the Congress:
- Most of those who supported the government happened to be from Hindi-speaking states or states where the Congress’ main rival is the BJP
- Even within them, leaders from poll-bound states seemed to be more supportive of the move, keeping in mind the electorate to which they have to appeal. This is evident in the positions taken by leaders like Hooda, Bishnoi and Deora
- On the other hand, most Congress functionaries from southern states and Punjab were vocally critical of the move
For instance, even Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who is known to take tough positions on matters of national security, issued a strong statement slamming the government’s decision.
Mohan Kumaramangalam, working president of the Tamil Nadu Pradesh Congress, compared the move to demonetisation and said that it will create more problems.
However, be it in the Lok Sabha or on social media, most Congress leaders focused their criticism on the manner in which the Modi government went about abrogating Kashmir’s special status as well as the bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories. Not many tried to defend Article 370.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah even taunted the Congress in the Lok Sabha saying that, “No one except Asaduddin Owaisi spoke against the revocation of Article 370. Perhaps they don’t want to openly say it.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla teased Congress’ Manish Tewari after the latter’s speech by asking him to specify whether his party was supporting the government’s move. Tewari replied cryptically, invoking the title of the book Fifty Shades of Grey, trying to make the point that the Congress’ stand can’t be seen in black-and-white terms.
The debate over the party’s position on the revocation of Article 370 by the government ended up extending into a debate on what the Congress truly stands for.
The party’s whip in the Rajya Sabha Bhubaneswar Kalita resigned from the Upper House on 5 August and said that the party’s stand on Article 370 was “completely against the mood of the nation”.
Supporting Kalita’s position, Rachit Seth, who was the party’s media coordinator blamed “ultra-left elements” for “destroying the party”.
Seth even blamed “leftists” for the gaffe committed by Congress’ leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in the Lok Sabha, when he referred to the international dimension of the Kashmir dispute.
Privately, several Congress leaders and functionaries said that Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad’s strong challenge to the government’s move can harm the party in Hindi-speaking states.
However, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s tweet against the government’s move put many who had praised it in a sticky situation.
After this, many party leaders began downplaying the differences within the Congress by saying that Congress stands for “diverse opinions and points of view”.
The party’s stand became clearer after the Congress Working Committee passed a strong resolution on Tuesday evening condemning the government’s move.
Ever since Rahul Gandhi quit as the party president, the Congress has been struggling to regroup. The party has ended up taking equivocal positions on key issues. For instance, on the Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment Bill, Congress leaders like Kapil Sibal, P Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh spoke against the amendments but the party ended up voting in favour of it.
This fundamentally stems from the party’s need to balance the “left” and the “right” as well as its need to win back the Hindu votes in the Hindi heartland without losing the support of the minorities.
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