In Srinagar, meanwhile, the National Conference, which has ruled J&K for several decades and is now the main Opposition in the state.
Bengaluru/Srinagar: A day after veteran Congress leader and former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram made controversial remarks about “azaadi” and greater autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit out at the Congress Party, saying that the “azaadi” remark was an insult to soldiers guarding innocent Kashmiris from terror in the strife-torn state.
Addressing BJP workers at Bengaluru’s HAL Airport on Sunday, the PM, on a one-day visit to Karnataka, while not naming Mr Chidambaram, criticised Congress leaders for their “insensitive” and “shameless” statement on autonomy for J&K. “They are talking the language of separatists and pro-Pakistan elements. The Congress owes an explanation to the nation for its ‘azaadi’ remark. How will our country progress with such people, who try to derive political mileage from sensitive issues? The true colours of the Congress have been revealed,” he said.
In Srinagar, meanwhile, the National Conference, which has ruled J&K for several decades and is now the main Opposition in the state, passed a resolution on Sunday vowing to continue its struggle for the restoration of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir in its “original, pristine form”. It asked both India and Pakistan to initiate a “sustained and comprehensive” dialogue to resolve the Kashmir imbroglio. The NC also asked the government at the Centre to end what it alleged was its “muscular policy” vis-a-vis the state. “If New Delhi wants to win the hearts and minds of the people of J&K, it must restore autonomy to the state,” said former chief minister Farooq Abdullah after being re-elected as NC president at its delegate conference, held in Srinagar after a gap of 15 years.
In Bengaluru, continuing his tirade, Mr Modi said: “I am surprised at the U-turn of Congress leaders, who are now talking of autonomy for J&K. They were in power at the Centre for many years, and they have the responsibility of ensuring internal security. Veteran freedom fighter Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel played a pivotal role in the unification of India. Our solders are guarding our motherland day and night and protecting innocent Kashmiris. Many soldiers have laid down their lives for the sake of Kashmir. But the Congress, which ruled the country ‘by accident’ for so many years, is now shamelessly talking of ‘azaadi’ for J&K. They owe an explanation to citizens for their shameless statement.”
“We would like to send out a message that this is the land of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and we will not compromise when it comes to the unity and integrity of our great nation. I want to know from people whether can we expect development from the Congress, which politicises such sensitive issues,” he said.
Mr Chidambaram, a former Union home minister, had said in poll-bound Gujarat’s Rajkot on Saturday that when the people of J&K ask for “azaadi”, 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 azaadi, mostly, I am not saying all... the overwhelming majority, they want autonomy.”
“Yes, I do,” Mr Chidambaram said when he was asked if he still thinks J&K should be given greater autonomy. Under scathing attack from the PM, Mr Chidambaram said in New Delhi Sunday that Mr Modi had imagined a “ghost... and was attacking it”. He said it was obvious that the PM had not read the whole answer to the question put to him on J&K at Rajkot. “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.
Mr Chidambaram had in July 2016 advocated greater autonomy for J&K, saying India should restore the “grand bargain” under which Kashmir had acceded by granting a large degree of autonomy to it. He had warned otherwise the country will have to pay a “heavy price”.
The Congress, however, sought to distance itself from Mr Chidambaram’s remarks, saying the “opinion of an individual is not necessarily the opinion of the party”. Congress chief spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala had said J&K is an integral part of India and “will always remain so unquestionably”.
Mr Modi, meanwhile, taking a dig at Congress leaders who had asked for proof of last year’s surgical strike by the Indian Army across the Line of Control in Kashmir, said the surgical strike was actually a matter of pride for the entire country. India’s diplomatic strength had been proved during the standoff with China on the Doklam issue, which had been resolved diplomatically. Unable to digest this success, the Congress had issued a fake statement on the Doklam row, he claimed.
The PM said he felt Congressmen would correct their mistakes after the party was wiped out in almost all states, but their arrogance had not subsided yet. After humiliating defeats, some Congressmen tried to bring the party back on track but had given up as they found it impossible to carry out reforms, he said.