Rahul did reiterate the demand for restoration of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir but he was not at all emphatic about restoration of Article 370 and Article 35A which were nullified by the Narendra Modi government on August 5, 2019 through amendments piloted by home minister Amit Shah in the Rajya Sabha.
Rahul’s stand on Article 370 has been consistently aligned to that of the party ever since Jammu and Kashmir lost the special status.
Having started from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu on September 7, the Bharat Jodo Yatra covered 4,080 km and passed through 12 states and two UTs before culminating on the 136th day in Srinagar.
Rahul addressed 12 public meetings and 13 press conferences. Of the 13 media interactions, he held two in Jammu and Kashmir. On both occasions, he was asked about the Congress’s stand on the restoration of Article 370.
However, he evaded a direct reply on both occasions. His common refrain was that the party’s stand was mentioned in a resolution passed at a meeting of the highest decision-making body Congress Working Committee (CWC).
In fact, the Congress has so far shied away from taking a clear stand on Article 370 and Rahul did not want to create a controversy by stating anything new. Hence, he kept repeating that the CWC’s resolution was the Congress’s last word on Article 370.
One of the major reasons behind the Congress’s conservative stand on the controversial article of the Constitution may be the general perception which is believed to be in favour of the Modi government’s move to negate it.
Congress and nullification of Article 370
The government’s move on Articles 370 and 35A stunned all including the Congress. It took 24 hours for Rahul to criticise the Centre for scrapping the special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
On August 6, 2019, he tweeted and said, “National integration isn’t furthered by unilaterally tearing apart J&K, imprisoning elected representatives and violating our Constitution. This nation is made by its people, not plots of land. This abuse of executive power has grave implications for our national security.”
On the same day, CWC adopted a resolution opposing the “manner in which” the Modi government nullified Article 370.
The resolution said, “The CWC deplores the unilateral, brazen and totally undemocratic manner in which Article 370 of the Constitution was abrogated and the State of Jammu and Kashmir was dismembered by misinterpreting the provisions of the Constitution. Every principle of Constitutional law, States’ rights, Parliamentary procedure and democratic governance was violated.”
It further said Article 370 was conceived and crafted by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and BR Ambedkar, assisted by N Gopalaswamy Iyengar and VP Menon. “Article 370 is the Constitutional recognition of the terms of the Instrument of Accession between the State of Jammu & Kashmir and India. It deserved to be honoured until it was amended, after consultation with all sections of the people, and strictly in accordance with the Constitution of India.”
Two years later, Rahul paid a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir in August 2021. He demanded the restoration of full statehood to the UT. However, like other senior leaders of his party, he evaded mentioning the contentious Article 370.
While inaugurating a new party office in Srinagar, Rahul said the Congress demanded the restoration of full statehood for Jammu and Kashmir and revival of the democratic process of elections there.
And now he has maintained the same position during his Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Congress Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh did stir a controversy once. In a Clubhouse chat, which was leaked in June 2022, he was reported to have said: “The decision of revoking Article 370 and reducing the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir is an extremely sad decision. And the Congress party would certainly have to have a relook into this issue.”
This created a huge uproar. The Congress was forced to clarify its stand on the controversial issue. Distancing itself from Singh’s statement, the party asked its leaders to follow its official stand on the nullification of Article 370.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said: “The Congress party has clearly stated its position on Jammu and Kashmir, in its resolution of August 6, 2019, of the Congress Working Committee (CWC). This is the only official stance of the party. I urge and request all senior leaders to refer to the same.”
Till date, the CWC resolution remains the official stand of the party on Article 370. Rahul also repeated the same in the last few days.
As far as his demand for restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, it is not anything new. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have also repeatedly assured restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir at an “appropriate time”.
On June 24, 2021, Modi had convened an all-party meeting in the national capital on Jammu and Kashmir in which he assured early delimitation followed by assembly elections and statehood at an appropriate time.
The orders of the Delimitation Commission came into effect on May 20, 2022. The Hindu-majority Jammu region has got 43 seats while the Muslim majority Kashmir region has got 47 taking the total number of assembly seats to 90, up from the current tally of 83.
While the Congress has not taken a definite stand on Article 370, the UT’s regional parties Mehbooba Mufti-led People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Farooq Abdullah-headed National Conference (NC) have assertively demanded its restoration. However, the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre has vehemently denied return of special status to Jammu and Kashmir.