The Bold Voice of J&K

The grand old party’s Baloch cacophony

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A Surya Prakash  

From a national point of view, the most worrying development over the last fortnight is the discordant notes struck by very senior members of the Congress and the party’s official spokespersons on issues that matter the most for the country viz national security, relations with Pakistan, India’s internal security and Kashmir. No one has witnessed so much confusion at the top for so long and on so many issues in India’s oldest political party and this should be a matter of worry for all those who abhor dissonance in matters of national security and foreign policy.
Let us examine the case of Balochistan. The Prime Minister first referred to the plight of people in Balochistan at an all-party meeting. Thereafter, in his Independence Day speech on 15th August, he thanked the people living in Balochistan, Gilgit, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) for expressing their appreciation and gratitude to him (for taking up their cause).
Salman Kurshid, who was India’s External Affairs Minister in the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government led by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, took strong exception to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Balochistan in his Independence Day speech and said that Modi should not have talked about it. In his view, the present Government’s stand on Balochistan was ruining India’s case on PoK. In a newspaper article, Kurshid accused the Prime Minister of abruptly launching a PoK-Gilgit-Balochistan verbal assault “to the immediate cheers of uninformed jingoists across the electronic and social media”. He has also argued that the reference to Balochistan was ruining India’s case on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Kurshid was joined by Kapil Sibal, the Law Minister in the UPA Government and a man often deployed by the Congress to defend it or to explain its point of view. He too felt that the Prime Minister’s reference to Balochistan was “unnecessary” and that it would “have consequences”. “I don’t know who advised him (Prime Minister) to raise that issue from the ramparts of the Red Fort” he said.
The Congress however lost no time in distancing itself from these comments. The very day these comments were in the public domain, the party deployed its spokesman to not only contradict them but also to tell the Modi Government that it must “aggressively” raise the issue of atrocities committed by Pakistan in Balochistan. These comments made it clear that the party was keen to distance itself immediately from Kurshid’s and Sibal’s views.
The party said human rights violations in Balochistan was an issue that concerned India because the Pakistan Army had been murdering democracy in Balochistan and PoK. The party fielded Randeep Surjewala, its communication department head to emphatically state that all these issues must be raised by India “not just with Pakistan but in the international fora”.
As regards the opinion of the former Foreign Minister, Kurshid, the party spokesman said “We all respect Khurshid. He is a senior leader” but his comment that the Balochistan issue is an internal matter of Pakistan may be his “personal opinion”. Significantly, he concluded his comment by saying that “India and the Congress believe that the human rights violations in Balochistan is an issue related to India”.
Interestingly, even as the Congress fielded Surjewala to declare its stated policy on Balochistan, Anand Sharma, another senior minister in the UPA regime and a party spokesperson, decided to take a slightly nuanced stance on the same issue. While Surjewala said the Congress wanted the Modi Government to “aggressively” raise the issue of human rights violations by the Pakistan Government in Balochistan not only at the bilateral level, but in international fora, Sharma chose to delink PoK and Balochistan. PoK, he said was a territorial issue, that was part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. So was Gilgit-Baltistan. So, when India spoke about PoK or Gilgit-Baltistan, it was not interfering in the internal matters of another country because these territories are an integral part of the state which acceded to the Indian Union and is under illegal Pakistani occupation. But, Balochistan was different. Balochistan is not a territorial issue between India and Pakistan because it is part of Pakistan. “We have never disputed that. But at the same time, we have expressed concern over the developments there and the brutal use of force to suppress people”.
But the story did not end here. Some days later, AK Anthony, who was the Defence Minister in the Manmohan Singh Government, declared unequivocally that the Congress fully backed Prime Minister Modi’s statement on Balochistan. He declared that the party did not find anything wrong in the Prime Minister’s stand. Speaking to the media, Anthony said neither he nor his party found “any fault” in Modi’s statement on Balochistan. He said he was fully aware of Paksitan’s role in supporting terrorism in Kashmir.
Finally, the latest example of “confusion at the top” in the Congress is the response to former Finance Minister, P Chidambaram’s statement that the Congress, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party should come together to prevent Kashmir from “sliding into a chaos”. As soon as Chidambaram made this statement, the Congress began quickly distancing itself from this view. Chidambaram reportedly said that the present Government in the State would not be able to find a way out of the crisis. “The Congress, the National Conference and, if willing, the PDP must come together to find a solution”. But his party lost no time in declaring that it did not agree with him. This time, Abhishek Manu Singhvi was deployed to inform the media that Chidamabaram was indulging in “romanaticism'”. Singhvi reportedly said that the party had no desire to chase “idealism”, when it did not have a mandate.
This is indeed a rarity. Such dissonance and confusion is rarely seen in India’s oldest political party, and specially on such sensitive issues. Venkaiah Naidu, the Minister for Urban Development and Information and Broadcasting, summed up the plight of the Congress rather succinctly last week when he said the only thing that is consistent in that party is its inconsistency! In short, the Congress has now become a house of discordant voices – and sadly on issues of utmost critical importance to the nation. For India’s sake, one hopes that his cacophony will soon end and the nation’s oldest party will soon return to a state of
coherence.

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