Chidu seeks greater autonomy for J&K, gets panned by BJP

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Rajkot/New Delhi: Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram pitched for greater autonomy for the restive Jammu & Kashmir yet again today, drawing stinging criticism from the BJP, with Union minister Smriti Irani calling it “shocking and shameful”.

“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 azadi (freedom), mostly, I am not saying all… the overwhelming majority, they want autonomy,” he told reporters in Gujarat’s Rajkot.

“Yes, I do,” Chidambaram said when he was asked if he still thought that Jammu & Kashmir should be given greater autonomy. Chidambaram had, in July 2016, advocated greater autonomy for the State, saying India should restore the “grand bargain” under which Kashmir had acceded by granting a large degree of autonomy to it. He had warned that, otherwise, the country would have to pay a “heavy price”.

Reacting sharply to Chidambaram’s remarks, the BJP said it was not surprising to see Chidambaram make such comments, given that his leader supported those who gave slogan of “Bharat tere tukde honge (India, you will be split into parts)”, an apparent reference to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi backing those who protested the arrest of student leader Kanhaiya Kumar in the JNU row. Kumar, then the JNUSU president, and a few others were arrested on the charge of sedition after anti-national slogans were allegedly raised at an event on the campus in February last year to protest the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley accused the Congress of encouraging separatism in Jammu & Kashmir and said Chidambaram’s statement “hurt” India’s national interest, which was a serious issue. “Whether this statement which has come from a prominent leader of the Congress party is the party’s official stand or not? I think the party should immediately clarify that,” he said in Mumbai.

In Srinagar, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav alleged that the Kashmiri people and the whole country “are bearing the brunt of the mistakes” that were committed by Chidambaram and the Congress government. “We do not need this advice. The present government would seek advice from well-wishers of J-K and would act definitely in future. We do not need advice from Chidambaram,” Madhav, the BJP’s pointsman for Jammu and Kashmir, said.

“Shocking that PC bats for separatists & ‘azadi‘ but then not surprising given that their leader supported ‘Bharat tere tukde hongenaara (slogan)!” Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani tweeted. “Shameful given that PC spoke in Gujarat, the birthplace of Sardar Patel; a man who dedicated his life for the unity & prosperity of India,” she added.

Chidambaram had said the question of greater autonomy should be “seriously examined” and it should be considered in which areas it could be granted. “It’s (autonomy) perfectly within the Constitution of India. Jammu and Kashmir will remain an integral part of India but it will have larger powers as promised under Article 370,” he said.