Leadership Crisis Hurting Congress, Not Its Stand On J&K Issue, Says Shashi Tharoor
Source: BloombergQuint

Leadership Crisis Hurting Congress, Not Its Stand On J&K Issue, Says Shashi Tharoor

After several Congress leaders voiced their support to the revocation of special status to Jammu & Kashmir, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said there is no division of opinion within the parliamentary party of the Congress.

“It is rather healthy that a varied range of views can be aired within the grand old party,” Tharoor told BloombergQuint in an interview. The policy line adopted by the party on the Jammu and Kashmir issue was “very much discussed” under Congress parliamentary President Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, he said.

Prominent Congress leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Milind Deora extended their support to the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, raising questions over the party’s muddled stand on the issue.

But according to Tharoor, apart from a few colleagues, voices of the Congress party within the Parliament were completely consistent with each other.

When asked if the party’s incoherent stand on the issue was because of a leadership crisis at the helm, Tharoor said the perception of drift in indecision in electing an interim president is, in fact, hurting the party.

Calling it a “dark day” in Indian democracy, Tharoor said the very people whose constitutional future was being decided were not consulted in the process. “A different story could’ve transpired had the government attempted to create a climate for change.”

There is no obligation under the constitution to agree with the views of the Kashmiri representatives. But not consulting them at all is certainly a betrayal of democratic practice. 
Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, Congress

The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed a resolution scrapping special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution. The Parliament also passed a bill splitting the state into two union territories.

Watch the full interview here:

Read the full transcript here:

A number of Congress leaders spoke in both houses in last two days but we have not heard from the presidents of the party over this issue. Any particular reason why? What is the party’s stand on this officially?

Rahul Gandhi has very much conveyed his views on social media. As far as speaking in Parliament is concerned the task was left to us, but don’t forget the president of the parliamentary party is Sonia Gandhi and the policy line we took was discussed and agreed very much under her leadership and has not only her blessing but full support which she and Rahul Gandhi demonstrated by their presence in the Lok Sabha of which they are members while this was being discussed. So, there is no question that there is any division of opinion within the parliamentary party. I am aware that some colleagues outside who are not part of the parliamentary party have expressed different views. It’s probably healthy in party like ours that a number of different views can be aired on a major issue, after all party whips only apply to party members in Parliament.

Apart from that the line which Manish Tiwari, Ghulam Nabi Azad, P Chidambaram or I articulated, all of these represent the line of the Congress party and they are completely consistent with each other.

Rahul Gandhi’s tweet referred to the manner in which the clampdown in J&K has been enforced, the way former CMs has been arrested, it isn’t an articulation on Article 370 itself. I would like to understand party’s view on that particular article going in from last two days and what it has been in the house for last two days. Even in that the articulation in Rajya Sabha by Azad and even you was on the historical references and the manner how it was carried out in. I would like to know the official line communicated to you by the parliamentary party president.

The parliamentary party president is the part of the collegial process where we sit down together and discuss the line that we should take and then we are authorised to go out and take that line. I myself began with precisely the same point that Rahul Gandhi has made in his tweets namely the dismaying fact that what turned out to be a dark day for Indian democracy that such a major decision was taken without a legislature in session for over six months. With many democratically elected leaders locked up under house arrest or elsewhere, a situation in which no consultation worth a name has taken place with very people whose constitutional future was being decided; that was what we were concerned about and that remains.

I am not going to sit here and say that everything about Article 370 was good or bad or after 70 years there wasn’t a good reason to review it. My argument would be that if they wish to do that, they certainly could have tried to do it when they were in power in Kashmir as part of a coalition government with the PDP and they could certainly as a central government have embarked upon consultation with elected legislatures and other representative leaders. There is no obligation under the constitution to agree with the views of the Kashmiri representatives, but not consulting them at all is certainly a betrayal of democratic practice. What is very striking is that, you have literally a clampdown on Kashmir that is total with internet shut off, with phone connections down, landlines not working, TV switched off and then in this blackout you unleash a decision that affects the Kashmiris more profoundly than anyone else in India. And you do it by saying that as far you are concerned, the constitutional requirement of consulting the state has been met by the fact that you consulted the Governor you yourself appointed. In other words, you sought your own consent, take the decision that you wanted to take—that is not a democracy as we in India have been understanding for last 70 years.

Even the legality and constitutionality of substituting our Parliament for the legislative assembly of Kashmir is a highly dubious preposition which undoubtedly will be tested in courts by other interested parties. As I said in the speech, I am not a lawyer, I am not going to argue on the criminal or legal points. As a democrat, as a parliamentarian, as a concerned citizen of India, I do have concerns about the manner in which this was done. About the fact that our Kashmiri friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues have been locked up while this decision was being done. There was no consultation with the representative of that state, with the people of that state and that is really a let down because they did it in a way a lot of consequences that I warned about could still transpire. It could have been done in a sort of popular way as it had been done in Junagadh, as it has been done in Sikkim—a different story where people wanted a change a constitutionally. Here, there was no attempt made to even create the climate for a popular demand for a change.

Where Congress as a party stands, you said the Congress parliamentary party represented the views in both houses. You said many of the outside the parliamentary party chief. Scindia was your chief whip in the last Lok Sabha but he is not a member of the current parliamentary party. You have Milind Deora, Aditi Singh all of them on Twitter have posted a view that is divergent to that of the parliamentary party. Is the larger party beyond those who are the MPs who are divided on this issue right now?

I would not accept that preposition because currently the party structure is essentially leaderless as in there isn’t a functioning active presidential leadership in the party and certainly the tradition in the party in encouraging free expression of views has to be, in my view, respected. I hope one day myself to be a beneficiary of having expressed certain views freely and frankly where I am not in a forum that is being questioned. The ones in the parliamentary party are bound by a whip.

So as far as the party lines so to speak are concerned it is within the parliamentary party there was absolutely no divergence from it, one person who disagreed as you rightly pointed out, resigned but everybody else has stayed on in the party, in the Parliament and voted along the lines that the party has guided them to do. So I don’t see any question of any confusion or lack of clarity but I would agree that outside the parliamentary party, people who might had they been in the parliamentary party been able to contribute a different point of view before we arrived at a line, since they couldn’t do so, they did it outside but that’s perfectly fair. I am not sure they would have prevailed in this case because the views taken within the parliamentary party meeting and by the parliamentary party President Mrs. Gandhi were certainly unequivocal.

The way that this was pushed through the Parliament and the manner in which the central government has interpreted the language in the Constitution to substitute ‘government of the state’ to mean ‘governor of the state’, used that interchangeably, and then to use one section of the Article to change another Article, and in turn use that to change the rest of the previous Articl. On other matters of constitutional importance, things like an assembly floor test, representatives of the Congress have approached the Supreme Court in quick time. That hasn’t happened in this matter. Is this imminent?

I don’t, because I have been totally focused on the Parliament. I have literally just come out and headed to a series of interviews including yours but let me just say that I have no doubt, knowing our country and its litigious nature, if the Congress party doesn’t do it somebody else will do it and certainly some Kashmiri who has a direct stake in it is bound to do it. One of the MPs who wasn’t in Kashmir and wasn’t subject to the lockdown was former justice Masoodi who is a member of Parliament from the National Conference and he spoke but what’s interesting is he was one of the judges in one of the interesting cases in a two-judge bench that has ruled on these issues so he has a certain judicial heft and I am sure he is not going to take this lying down. I am sure that he, for example, will have the locus standi to approach the Supreme Court to take this matter up. I don’t know if he will do so, he hasn’t confided in me. But it seems to me there are plenty of people who will challenge this in the court and I hope that the government is able to give a convincing and a robust defense, As I said in the Parliament, you may have worked in the letter of the law, you certainly have violated the spirit of the Constitution. The intent of the Constitution makers was very clearly that the legislature of the state in other words the representative of the people have to be consulted. So by going through a legal sleight of hand and coming up with this formula which you have summarised quite ably that you can use one article to amend another, that is a very peculiar way of going about things and equally odd is to say that you have the concurrence of the state that’s required, by consulting your own Governor and that you have the consent of the legislatures required by the Constitution by ensuring that in your interpretation the Parliament in Delhi has taken over all the powers of the legislature in Srinagar by actually having a President’s rule for this period. The entire thing has been very well-planned. Will it stand the test of the courts is not for me to say. I am not a judge. But, as I said, the spirit of our democracy is lying in tatters today.

Were Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s comments counterproductive?

I don’t think it would be right for me to comment on a party colleague. People are reacting spontaneously to what goes on and I would rather not address that issue. When I had a chance to offer a clarification to something Amit Shah was saying I didn’t have the mic given to me but I said it loud enough for the house to clear that when Nehru took the issue to the UN, he only took the issue of international aggression by Pakistan against India. He did not take any internal arrangements, constitutional matters or domestic disputes to the UN and that needs to be stated on the record that it was about complaining about Pakistan’s aggression and that I think is very difficult to fault PM Nehru for as there clearly had been aggression on our territory by the Pakistanis.

Will you seek updates from Home Minister on the law and order situation for some visibility on J&K returning to full statehood?

I asked in Parliament at the end of my speech for the Home Minister to cooperate on an all-party delegation of MPs to go and see the conditions on the ground and judge for themselves and share that with the nation. Sadly, he avoided reacting to that in his reply. In the Speaker’s rush to wind up the session, there was no time to ask this question once again. But I do believe that the request must be pursued seriously and I intend to remind him on social media that he hasn’t answered this request. I think many MPs would want to see for themselves, meet their colleagues and friends and see what the people of Kashmir are enduring at the moment. It’s really looking very very troubling from all accounts that we are getting.

What have you heard between the CWC and the party’s leadership in what the timeline is being considered to resolving the leadership stalemate within the party. Do the events of the last two days make this even more urgent?

I have not lost a minute in conveying to everyone I can in the Congress Working Committee of how important this is. I believe the perception of drift and indecision is hurting the party. I believe whoever the committee names as interim president will be able to give some clear direction to the party and bring active leadership to the party. My view is that there should be free and open elections for anyone who would like to put themselves forward in order to take the reins of the party with the support of the party workers. In the absence of a clear and active top-notch direction, people will end up expressing ideas in different directions and create confusion. The party line in Parliament is only binding on the MPs and those outside are free to express their views. Had they been in Parliament, they could have tried to influence the outcome of our line and clearly they weren’t able to do so. We had no real dissent within the party when our position was discussed before. Manish and I were tasked to speak in the Lok Sabha about it. Independent of what happened in the last couple of days, where there was really no confusion within the parliamentary party and apparently some directions outside. As far as the party leadership is concerned, it cannot come a day sooner for the working committee at its very next meeting to take a decision, whatever decision, to go ahead and give the party some clear leadership and clear direction.

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