Congress' reaction to reading down of Article 370 exposes its ideological bankruptcy; party appears isolated, confused

  • The Centre’s decision to read down Article 370 and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories has, among other things, exposed the ideological bankruptcy of Congress.

  • The Congress was not only unsuccessful in stalling the passage of the legislations in the Upper House where the BJP lacks the requisite numbers, but the party also appeared split right down the middle.

  • Sonia Gandhi appeared bemused as Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, appeared to suggest that Jammu and Kashmir wasn’t an integral part of India.

The Centre’s decision to read down Article 370 and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories has, among other things, exposed the ideological bankruptcy of Congress. This is possibly the grand old party’s worst crisis. The nature of power in a democracy is transient. It is natural for political parties in a democratic system to move in and out of power, and that doesn’t make a political outfit redundant. Ideological bankruptcy, however, may lead to an existential crisis. In the absence of an ideological mooring, power is the only glue that holds the party together, and when out of power, the outfit collapses like a pack of cards.

We are witnessing this phenomenon with the Congress. The party’s confusion over Article 370 serves to highlight the gravity of the crisis. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha on Monday soon after Union home minister Amit Shah moved a resolution in the Upper House to abrogate Article 370, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad was breathing fire.

The former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir roared, “They have not just scrapped Article 370 and Article 35A, but also divided the state. This government has decapitated India. Jammu and Kashmir was the head of India... Jammu Kashmir ke tukde tukde kar diye (they have broken the state into pieces).”

It seemed the Congress was ready for a fight. The party asked its chief whip Bhubaneshwar Kalita to issue a whip to all members for opposing the bill. Kalita, who was due to retire next April, resigned from his membership of the Upper House in protest against his party’s stand on abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. He termed the Congress' stand as “suicide”.

 Congress reaction to reading down of Article 370 exposes its ideological bankruptcy; party appears isolated, confused

File image of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. PTI

In a statement, the Congress chief whip in Rajya Sabha said: “The Congress has asked me to issue a whip on the Kashmir issue. But the truth is that the mood of the nation has completely changed and this whip is against the public sentiment across the country… It seems the Congress is committing suicide with this ideology and I don’t want to be part of this.”

Outside the House, speaking to reporters, veteran Congress leader and former home minister P Chidambaram said “we did not think in our wildest dreams that they will take such a catastrophic step… Today is a black day in the constitutional history of India.”

The Congress old guard — leaders like Azad, Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal opposed the government’s move in the Rajya Sabha. Azad’s rhetorical flourish, “we shall give our lives but won’t let the government murder the Constitution”, and his promise of dogged resistance against the resolution and legislations that seek to revoke Articles 370 and Article 35A and end Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, while bifurcating the state into two Union territories, in the end came to nought.

The Congress was not only unsuccessful in stalling the passage of the legislations in the Upper House where the BJP lacks the requisite numbers, but the party also appeared split right down the middle. The BJP’s move to unite the nation over the abrogation of Article 370 ended up dividing the Congress. This was not just the BJP’s ideological victory, and a fulfilment of its long-standing demand and promise to the nation, it was also a political masterstroke that further reduced the headless and directionless Congress to a rump.

The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill was passed by the Upper House through a voice vote, with 125 being in favour and 61 against it, and there was also one abstention. The following day, it sailed through the Lok Sabha with a two-thirds majority. While the Bill’s passage in the Lok Sabha was never in doubt, the effortless way in which the government managed the Bill’s passage in the Rajya Sabha reinforced Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s mastery in floor management and the disarray within Opposition ranks.

In the Upper House, several Opposition parties such as BSP, BJD, YSR Congress, TDP and AAP either walked out or sided with the NDA, leaving Congress in the lurch. The party’s confusion was visible at several levels — political and ideological.

Sonia Gandhi appeared bemused as Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, appeared to suggest that Jammu and Kashmir wasn’t an integral part of India.

Chowdhury said in his speech, “I have a doubt. Because you say that it is an internal matter. You have bifurcated a state. My point is, from 1948, Kashmir is being monitored by the UN, is that an internal matter? We signed the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration, was that an internal matter or bilateral? (Foreign Minister) S Jaishankar told his US counterpart Mike Pompeo it is a bilateral issue, don’t interfere. Can Jammu and Kashmir still be an internal matter after that?”

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To suggest that Jammu and Kashmir isn’t an integral part of India is a stand no mainstream political party in India can afford to take. The nature of the Congress’ blunder was severe. It not only gave Shah the chance to box the Congress into a corner, the party’s "high command" felt alarmed enough to indicate to the media that it was “unhappy” with its own Leader in the Upper House.

However, if the Congress high command (read Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi) felt that Chowdhury had stepped out of line, then it is even harder to explain the logic behind Rahul’s tweet where he appeared to back the statement that Chowdhury made in Rajya Sabha.

Though Rahul did not openly label Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory (the line taken by Chowdhury in Parliament and incidentally, Pakistan, in its reaction), he appeared to question the logic behind the scrapping of Article 370 and called it “abuse of executive power”.

Incidentally, a number of Congress leaders including Jyotiraditya Scindia, Janardan Dwivedi, Deepender Singh Hooda, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s son Anil K Shastri, Milind Deora, Congress MLA from Rae Bareli Aditi Singh, and even Jaiveer Shergill, national spokesperson of the Congress, backed the government’s move and appeared to oppose Rahul Gandhi’s stand.

“The Congress must sense the mood of the people and then take a stand. The people are totally with the government on this issue. We opposed Mandal and lost Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and should not risk now of losing India (sic),” said Shastri.

“I support the move on #JammuAndKashmir and #Ladakh and its full integration into union of India,” wrote Scindia.

Hooda, whose state Haryana faces Assembly polls shortly, wrote on Twitter that “my personal view is that there isn’t a need to have Article 370 in the 21st century. The move is not only in the interest of the country but also for the benefit of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India. It is the responsibility of the government to implement the move in a peaceful environment.”

On the other hand, when asked about the discordant voices in the party, a visibly irritated Azad was quoted as saying by ANI, “I have nothing to do with those who don’t know the history of the Congress and Jammu and Kashmir. They should first read the history of the state and of the Congress, and then stay in the Congress).”

What we see here, therefore, is extreme confusion within the Congress on an issue that has received widespread, intense and vociferous support from all corners of the nation. The Congress increasingly finds itself isolated from the national mood, and in its bid to oppose the government, is making itself irrelevant on the chessboard of national politics.

Rahul Gandhi’s stand on the scrapping of Article 370 may fit the line taken by an NGO, but his views sit at odds with the kind of position that the leader of a mainstream national party can afford to take. Be it surgical strikes, Balakot air strikes, purchase of Rafale fighter jets or Article 370, the Congress is stumbling at every step along the way, because the party has no ideological clarity. There are several reasons behind Congress’s ideological bankruptcy.

One, dynastic parties that are built around the cult of an individual or a family will always suffer the consequences when the cult outlives its appeal. The Gandhis hold no appeal in an India that has fundamentally transformed from the India of the 1980s or even the 1990s. Second, in an effort to be everything for everyone and in adopting a one-size-fits-all policy, the Congress has walked into an identity crisis. No one knows what the party stands for.

Is it a pro-minority outfit, or a secular party, or does it believe in Hindutva politics? Is it soft on separatists? Is it economically liberal and socially conservative, or the opposite? Does it believe in socialism, or market economy? What is the party’s stand on abrogation of Article 370? The resolution passed by the Congress Working Committee is vague and on-committal.

This vagueness is the surest symbol of ideological confusion. Unless the Congress latches itself to an ideology and rebuilds the party from scratch, we may see the grand old party getting repeatedly embarrassed on national stage on a variety of issues.

Updated Date: Aug 08, 2019 21:09:21 IST