Cong caught between individual opinions, consistent party line

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The other day Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha said that the Congress does not need to wear nationalism on its sleeve like the BJP given the role the grand old party had played in securing India’s independence. Despite such assertions, the party is increasingly feeling the pressure of taking positions, under pressure, every time the ruling party or the government rakes up issues with patriotic overtones.
The latest one is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Balochistan gambit. One can argue over the diplomatic merits and demerits of his audacious move as did former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid but the party was quick to give a thumps up to Modi. It did not want to be seen taking a stance which can be interpreted as pro-Pakistan. However, the stance only divided the party further. Once again the party found itself between a rock and a hard place.
It took some time for the party to nuance its position. It is not that the UPA government had not made comments on the unrest in Balochistan but those were more subtle moves – enough to prick Pakistan but well short of marking a shift in policy direction vis a vis Islamabad or for that matter the Nehruvian doctrine of non-intervention. However, when Modi mentioned Balochistan from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the Congress found itself in a quandary.
The politically sensible position, according to many party leaders, would have been to argue that while India should be concerned about the human rights violations in Balochistan, the government should deal first with the immediate challenges in Kashmir. But it ended up backing Modi to the hilt first and then subtly altered its position and brought the spotlight back to Kashmir. The whole episode only shows the need for putting in place a mechanism or platform for brain storming on such issues to arrive at a sufficiently nuanced political stance before rushing to articulate its view.
Similarly, there is confusion over Kashmir. When senior leader P Chidambaram argued that the Congress, National Conference and if willing the PDP should come together to find a solution to the Kashmir problem, the Congress reaction was interesting. It said unless any party line is announced, it is an individual view. It played safe and did not accept or reject Chidambaram’s suggestion. Party leaders say it is high time the Congress speak in one voice and articulate a coherent view on key issues. For that the leadership needs to institutionalise a mechanism for consultations.

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