The Manmohan Singh-led Congress panel on Kashmir that visited the Valley last month will be making a three-day trip to Ladakh and Kargil on November 10, said the party in a statement late on Saturday, while trying to play down the ‘autonomy’ remarks made by senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram.
“Once the group concludes its deliberations, it shall submit a report sharing its feedback and experiences with the Congress president. While individuals may have different personal opinions, INC believes that the solution for lasting peace and prosperity in J&K lies solely within the framework of India’s Constitution,” the statement said.
On Saturday, at an interaction between businessmen and intelligentsia at Gujarat’s Rajkot city, a journalist asked the former UPA Minister if he still believed in greater autonomy for Kashmir.
“Yes…The demand in Kashmir Valley is to respect in letter and spirit Article 370. And that means greater autonomy. My interactions in J&K led me to the conclusion that when they ask for azaadi (independence), most people — I am not saying all — the overwhelming majority want autonomy.”
The BJP promptly used it to target the Congress. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Congress position on azaadi was against the national interest while his colleague, Smriti Irani, described it as ‘shocking’ and ‘shameful.’
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal tweeted, “Now Congress wants azaadi for Kashmir. Time for Azaadi from Congress..”
Almost immediately, the Congress’s communication chief Randeep Surjewala made a counter offensive. “Forty-one months of the NDA-BJP regime have seen the situation deteriorate rapidly with terrorism on the rise, border ceasefire violations at an all-time high and our security forces valiantly fighting the onslaught of Pak-sponsored terrorism on a daily basis,” said Mr. Surjewala.