New Delhi: Twenty-three days after Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, wondered in Parliament if Jammu and Kashmir is an ‘international’ issue—in the very presence of party matriarch Sonia Gandhi—the Grand Old Party (GOP), on Wednesday, managed to clarify that, no, it is an “internal matter” of India!
With this, the Congress Party has, finally, fallen in line with the Government of India, even if in a damage-control mode, on the Centre’s historic step diluting the controversial Article 370 of the Constitution and scrapping the “special status” of J&K.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who went hammer-and-tongs just four days ago against Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA Government on this matter, has been virtually forced to eat words and ask Pakistan not to poke its nose into the J&K issue, an “internal matter” of India.
Gandhi tweeted on Wednesday that while he disagreed with the Government on many issues, he wanted to make it “absolutely clear” that J&K is India’s internal issue. He also said violence in the border state was instigated by Pakistan.
Apparently, this statement was grudgingly issued after the GOP became aware of popular anger against Gandhi on a day (Saturday) senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley passed away. Gandhi and his delegation of 12 other Opposition leaders, not allowed to “take stock of the situation” in the border state, were returned from Srinagar Airport itself. Upon his return, Gandhi condemned the Modi Government for its “draconian” step and roundly criticized it on all possible fronts.
The statements of a failed party’s leader were eagerly lapped up by a failed country, Pakistan, which immediately moved the United Nations to claim that even Indian Opposition parties were opposed to the scrapping of the Article 370. In other words, Gandhi came to the rescue of Islamabad whose relentless efforts to ‘internationalize’ J&K had spectacularly failed across the world, including at the UN.
This clever step by Pakistan put Islamabad, Gandhi, his Congress and the 12 Opposition parties’ cohorts on the same page! Pakistan had similarly exploited the shortsighted statements and claims of India’s Opposition parties after the Balakot airstrike in February. This negative perception was seen as a major factor in the resounding defeat of these parties in the Lok Sabha elections that followed in May.
Interestingly, even as most countries, including the US, supported India’s stand, the only ones opposing the Modi Government were the diminishing Congress leadership and its fringe associates in the Opposition space, egged on by ‘secular’ lobbyists. A worried Congress, therefore, decided to do some damage-control as a face-saving exercise, particularly as it braces for crucial Assembly elections in some states, including Maharashtra, in the next few months.
That is what forced the GOP’s hands and make it rush in for a mid-course correction: it dusted off to its own old policy that J&K is an “internal matter” of India!
This has exactly been the consistent position of India’s foreign policy for decades, and popular perception in the country, also supported by most of the countries, including the UN.
Ironically, by doing so, the Congress came to the rescue of a hugely pulverized Imran Khan Government in Pakistan; in turn, Islamabad, too, apparently, tried to ‘rescue’ a sinking Congress. Due to accelerating erosion in its rank and file, the GOP has of late been fighting irrelevance. Many senior Congress leaders have, in the last week, cautioned the party leadership to refrain from their blind opposition to Modi—they learnt the lesson the hard way after angry electors virtually bulldozed their party in the recent Lok Sabha election precisely because of this negativity.
In a way, Pakistan has done a great ‘service’ to the Congress Party which managed to wriggle out of the political quagmire. Despite being aware of popular support to the Centre’s move in J&K, the GOP did not want to be seen supporting the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government—particularly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah—even after many of its own senior leaders supported abrogation of Article 370. It wanted to appear “different” from the BJP—but was unable to chart out a new narrative in the face of popular support to the Modi Government and virtual disintegration of the Opposition space in Parliament and outside.