Sonia Gandhi returns to lead Congress amid disagreement over Kashmir, but her silence remains deafening


Way back in August 2012, Manmohan Singh — during the height of the political storm over the coal scam — had famously said, “My general attitude has been ‘Hazaaron Jawabon Se Acchi Hai Meri KhamoshiNa Jaane Kitne Sawaalon Ki Aabru Rakhe.” As Prime Minister of India for 10 years, he had turned into “Maun Mohan Singh”.

But ever since losing power in 2014, he has made his transformation from the “silent” to “talkies” era. On Monday, he gave vent to his ire at the Narendra Modi government for the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. He also added that the “idea of India” was under threat. His solution to the Kashmir problem is to talk to the people of the state and country to find a solution. Singh was not speaking at a seminar or a party forum, but he chose to make these remarks at a condolence meet organised to pay homage to departed Congress leader Jaipal Reddy.

What Manmohan must ponder is that if he felt so strongly against the abolition of Article 370, why did he not raise the topic in the Congress Working Committee, when contrarian view points that supported the Modi government’s move were supported by the likes of Jyotiraditya Scindia, Deepender Singh Hooda, Milind Deora, Janardan Dwivedi and Ashwini Kumar. Even if Manmohan had actually spoken on the subject, not a line was reported in the media, nor was anything said by spokespersons in their briefings to the media.

In any case, Manmohan’s opinion does not seem to matter in his own party, never mind in national politics. What matters for the Congress is what its new interim president Sonia Gandhi thinks. She has been Congress president for a record 19 years and is once again at the helm. One of the CWC meetings had Kashmir listed on the agenda. Again there were no reports or briefings as to whether Sonia had any opinion on the issue.

Now that she is president of main (notionally) Opposition party, it is important that the country knows her views on this critical subject. She is not on Twitter, unlike former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Congress general secretary daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. People at large never know how she feels or thinks about a given issue till the spin doctors in the Congress decide to give a spin and tell select journalists that she was happy or unhappy over an issue. Latest in that series was news that she was unhappy with the Leader of Party in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who claimed Kashmir was not an “internal issue”, but a bilateral one.

But it’s a fact that when Chowdhury was making his point, Sonia was sitting next to him and Rahul was lost in his thoughts. They didn’t object then. Even when Home Minister Amit Shah asked whether it was the Congress’ opinion, Sonia sat quietly.

People also don’t know the opinion of the Congress president on the contentious topic of triple talaq. Although the Congress collectively opposed the triple talaq bill and three resolutions and bills on the Kashmir issue, Sonia’s view remains a mystery.

When the Congress-led UPA was in power, Sonia’s views were essentially formed by the broad opinion of National Advisory Council (NAC) members. It is known that most members of the erstwhile NAC were ‘Left-liberals’. One need not elaborate on which side of the fence the Left-liberals are. Whether they still continue to shape her views on key policy matters is not known.

For the past few years, due to health reasons, her public appearances have been restricted and she has not campaigned for elections in a long time. Public rallies and campaigns are occasion for a leader to state his or her position on the subject of the day. Her idea of India, as she used to say on various occasions was the preservation of “Ganga-Jamuni Tehjib”. One is not sure what she meant by that. The River Ganga is considered holy but there is nothing called ‘Jamuni’. It perhaps derives from River Yamuna, but she never explained the term.

Pakistani leader Mushahid Hussain’s statement naming the Congress along with the Communists and Mamata Banerjee has further compounded problem for the Grand Old Party. Sonia needs to respond to that.

Radio Pakistan reportedly picking up Rahul’s statements to paint a picture of a Kashmir on the boil has given yet another opportunity to the BJP and its symapthisers or those who have been supportive of the Modi government’s move to abolish Article 370 to target Congress.

Sonia needs to respond to that. But for the past two decades, Congress strategists have built such an aura around her that party has to be blamed for all wrongs and she to be credited for all rights. Ironically, the 73-year-old Congress leader has returned to pull her party out of an existential crisis — a crisis that came to the fore during her previous term.


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