New Delhi: The Congress party may not have officially demanded the restoration of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, but there seems to be a push from Team Rahul to increase his appeal to a certain section, on issues pertaining to marginalised communities.
Former finance minister P. Chidambaram last week, in a series of tweets, demanded that the “arbitrary and unconstitutional decisions of the Modi government of August 5, 2019 must be rescinded”.
“The Congress also resolutely stands for restoration of the status and rights of the people of J&K. The arbitrary and unconstitutional decisions of the Modi government of August 5, 2019 must be rescinded,” he tweeted.
The Congress also resolutely stands for restoration of the status and rights of the people of J&K
The arbitrary and unconstitutional decisions of the Modi government of August 5, 2019 must be rescinded
— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) October 16, 2020
While Chidambaram did not explicitly use the phrase “restoration of Article 370”, his tweet left little to imagination, and was widely interpreted as demanding it.
This is the first time that a leader of the Congress party has called for J&K regaining its special status, immediately prompting Union Home Minister Amit Shah to challenge Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to “come clean” on where they stand on the Article 370 issue.
“I think Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi should officially endorse this statement (Chidambaram’s) so that the people of India know (where they stand)… The president of their party should come clean on this,” Shah said in an interview to CNN News18.
Former Congress Rajya Sabha MP and spokesperson Rajeev Gowda, a close aide of Rahul Gandhi, endorsed Chidambaram’s position and said the “arguments given in the favour of the abrogation have proven to be completely untenable”.
“The manner in which the status of J&K was changed a year ago was highly objectionable. Now, clearly, the arguments given in its favour have proven to be completely untenable,” Gowda told ThePrint. “J&K has been under lockdown, and citizens have been deprived of essential facilities, including the Internet. The way political leaders have been put behind bars is completely unconstitutional. There is a need to restore the original constitutional guarantees and the Congress will support such efforts.”
Chidambaram insists that his tweet is “perfectly consistent with the Congress Working Committee (CWC) decision”.
“On 6th August 2019, the CWC adopted a resolution tracing the history since (the) accession of J&K to India and said Article 370 ‘deserved to be honoured until it was amended, after consultation with all sections of the people, and strictly in accordance with the Constitution of India’. The 4 August decisions of the Modi government were unilateral, unconstitutional and arbitrary, and hence must be reversed,” Chidambaram told ThePrint.
While the resolution passed by the CWC in August last year also condemned the withdrawal of Article 370, calling it “unilateral, brazen and totally undemocratic”, it did not explicitly demand its restoration.
‘Attempt to court Left-liberals and Muslims’
Experts say that Chidambaram’s tweet should be seen as an example of the party attempting to court “Left-liberal intelligentsia on social media” in line with Rahul Gandhi’s tweet last week commenting on the position of Dalits, Muslims and tribals in India.
“The shameful truth is many Indians don’t consider Dalits, Muslims and Tribals to be human. The CM & his police say no one was raped because for them, and many other Indians, she was no one,” Gandhi had tweeted last week, with regard to the Hathras incident.
The shameful truth is many Indians don’t consider Dalits, Muslims and Tribals to be human.
The CM & his police say no one was raped because for them, and many other Indians, she was NO ONE.https://t.co/mrDkodbwNC
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) October 11, 2020
“Chidambaram’s statement, just like Rahul’s comment, can be an attempt to court a section of vocal Left-liberal intelligentsia and middle class Muslims who have been alienated from the party for quite some time,” Asim Ali, research associate at the Centre for Policy and Research, told ThePrint.
“That these messages have been targeted to them can be gauged from the fact that they have only been mentioned on Twitter, and will almost certainly be not repeated in political rallies or constitute a formal change in policy, because these messages are obviously unpopular among the wider electorate.”
Ali added: “The official policy of the Congress remains largely cautious and in tune with popular sentiments.”
The Congress party officially continues to maintain that the question of whether Article 370 should be restored or not is a sub judice matter.
“The CWC resolution is crystal clear that abrogation of Article 370 has to be in terms of the constitution which warrants that the J&K assembly should be taken into confidence. Congress itself has diluted the Article over 10 times in the past, but it has been in accordance with the established rules,” Congress national spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill told ThePrint. “The Congress disapproves of the sidelining and bypassing of the J&K Assembly.”
He added: “As far as whether the abrogation of Article 370 is right nor wrong is now a sub judice matter and pending in front of the Supreme Court.”
Asked if the party now explicitly demands the restoration of Article 370, Shergill said, “Even the CWC resolution does not say that. We can’t go beyond the realm of the CWC.”
Ali said occasional statements such as that of Chidambaram’s shows that the “Congress has become more adept at tailoring its messages to suit different constituents and different platforms, something the party has struggled at in the recent past”.
“It might also be seen as a move by ‘Team Rahul’ to have the Left-liberal intellectuals empathise with their camp in their fight against the dissenters within the party,” Ali added.
National leaders vs those in the states
Chidambaram had also welcomed the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar declaration — a declaration signed by various parties, including the Congress, on 4 August 2019, in a bid to protect the special status of J&K by standing united.
Chidambaram’s support came despite the fact that J&K Congress leaders gave the alliance’s meeting a miss Thursday, with party unit president G.A. Mir, citing health issues as the reason.
But the party’s inhibition in coming forward to defend Chidambaram and reiterate his position may have to do with the upcoming Bihar polls.
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javedkar even challenged the Congress to mention restoration of Article 370 in its manifesto for the Bihar elections.
BJP president J.P. Nadda also hit out at the Congress, calling Chidambaram’s statement “shameful” and a “dirty trick” to divide India.
Since Congress has no good governance agenda to talk about, they are back to their ‘Divide India’ dirty tricks before Bihar elections.
Shri Rahul Gandhi praises Pakistan and Shri Chidambaram says Congress wants Article 370 to return!
— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) October 16, 2020
“We have been clear on the party’s stand against the manner in which Article 370 was removed. But this may not have been the best time to take a position demanding its restoration, with Bihar elections so close on the heels,” a senior Bihar Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint.
However, Sameer Kumar Singh, the Congress’s Bihar working president, said Article 370 is a “non-issue” in the state polls.
“The big leaders like Chidambaramji will take up these national issues as they should,” Singh told ThePrint. “But in Bihar, right now the entire focus is on local issues, on misgovernance and the coronavirus situation. Not this.”