The unprecedented meeting of all political parties of Jammu and Kashmir chaired by PM Narendra Modi yesterday spoke more than what was seen on camera about the Congress party and its stand on Article 370. When on 5 August 2019, Union Home Minister Amit Shah tabled the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill in Parliament, as expected, it was Congress and leaders from the state who objected to the move. Speaking in Rajya Sabha, then Leader of Opposition and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad termed the move as the murder of constitution and democracy. Azad was visibly miffed with the scrapping of Article 370 and left no chance to attack the BJP.
Azad said that the BJP had murdered the constitution as well as a democracy by scrapping Article 370. He said the article that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and linked it to the country, ‘has been done away with mercilessly’. Notably, leaders from Kashmir have been terming Article 370 as a bridge between J&K and India.
Speaking in Rajya Sabha on the day, senior Congress Member P. Chidambaram said that the government momentarily thinks that it has scored a victory. He said that the foremost duty of the government is to protect the rights of states. “I genuinely fear you are pushing thousands of young men from this column to join the other column of a few hundred. If it happens you will rue this day when you repealed article 370,” Chidambaram had said.
Recently, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said in a Clubhouse chat that the Congress party will relook into the matter of restoration of Article 370.
After Digvijaya Singh’s remark, the Congress on 12 June asked its leaders to abide by the party’s official stand on the issue of abrogation of Article 370 as articulated in the Congress Working Committee’s August 6, 2019 resolution. According to PTI, the 2019 resolution of the party said that it ‘deplores the unilateral, brazen and totally undemocratic manner in which Article 370 of the Constitution was abrogated and the State of Jammu and Kashmir was dismembered by misinterpreting the provisions of the Constitution.
The resolution stated that every principle of Constitutional law, states’ rights, Parliamentary procedure and democratic governance were violated during the Abrogation of Article 370. The party said it pledges to stand with the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and to fight the BJP and its divisive and diabolical agenda.
While a majority of the party leaders stood in support of Article 370, only a few party leaders took a different stand which included then Congress Rajya Sabha MP and chief whip Bhubaneshwar Kalita and Janardan Dwivedi. Kalita had even resigned from the membership of the House saying the party’s stand was against the mood of the nation while Dwivedi had said that a ‘historical mistake’ has been corrected.
The claim of public sentiment in favour of the abrogation of Article 370 forced the Congress to rethink and tweak its position. Last year, the Congress adopted a resolution that said that the August 5 move had grave implications on the idea of India being a union of states. It changed its tone from opposing the abrogation to opposing the manner of abrogation. But the party kept mum whenever it was asked to clarify its stand on Article 370.
Last week when the Centre sent invitations to the political class of Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress party’s reaction was even more different from that adopted in the resolution. Speaking to The Indian Express, Ghulam Nabi Azad said that restoration of statehood will be top of the agenda of the party during the meeting with the PM. When asked about the party’s stand on Article 370, Azad said that he is still in consultation with the state leaders and will be able to comment only after consulting party high command, former PM Manmohan Singh and other senior leaders.
It showed that there is no time frame and the demand for restoring Article 370 may not come from the Congress in near future.
During the meeting with PM Modi, Ghulam Nabi Azad urged the government to restore full statehood before conducting the polls. “I have also asked for a rehabilitation process for Kashmiri Pandits, the release of political prisoners, and domicile rules whereby the Centre guarantees jobs for the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Azad. There was no mention of Article 370.
While the Congress has meekly changed its position over the issue seeing its larger interest across the country, regional parties like National Conference and PDP have said that they will keep demanding restoration of pre-August 2019 status.