NEW DELHI: “Party line” is a term generally associated with the Left — CPM to be precise — sending out the idea of a grand, pre-cooked ideology that would be unwavering even in the face of momentary blips in terms of viability or practical problems. But of late, the term has been getting brandished in Congress circles, an indication that Rahul Gandhi is more in charge now.
It was in evidence again last week when former foreign minister Salman Khurshid had an outburst over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s major tactical shift in foreign policy vis-a-vis Pakistan, bringing Balochistan on the frontburner. The party, eager to put out the impression that it was second to none on issues relating to India’s interests, was quick to distance itself from the content of his critique.
Khurshid has occasionally been outspoken in the past. However, those were in the nature of political interventions. His take on Balochistan runs through a wider swathe of territory, bringing in statecraft, diplomacy and geopolitics.
In the hushed ambience of the foreign policy circuit in New Delhi, Khurshid’s views were seen as a ‘voicing’ of their old concern that any aggressive change of script would jettison two decades of painstaking diplomatic efforts to put Pakistan in the corner on the international stage while assuming the ‘moral high ground’. But in Congress circles, it was received with an entirely different twist.
The party is witnessing a sort of Cold War of its own, between left-of-centre leaders like Digvijaya Singh, Mallikarjun Kharge, Khurshid, Jairam Ramesh, Kishor Chandra Deo and dyed-in-the-wool centrists like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and the likes, with the ambidextrous P Chidambaram, the soloist, playing a left hand on Kashmir and the right on GST.
The fault lines in the Congress have always developed along these two primary pulls in the party. And the current state of flux, where its ‘nationalist credentials’ are under threat from the BJP, but its ‘humanist’ tradition allows it to pose as an alternative, has made another internal tug-of-war almost a certain proposition.
Whether to back the government on the Balochistan or on the agenda of Indo-Pak talks, on Kashmir policy or on the action against Amnesty after its programme in Bangalore, the Congress is back to being happily polyphonic.
And it’s not the usual suspect Digvijaya alone contributing to the audible rupture in the ‘party line’, which for the Congress anyway is a loose, flexible thing. What began with Kharge and Veerappa Moily venting their ire at being left out on the GST negotiations has become a tussle with one group telling the other that the Congress ‘cannot be made to look like a B-team of the BJP’.
After the party’s chief media coordinator Randeep Singh Surjewala issued a statement distancing the Congress from Khurshid’s view on Balochistan, Khurshid gave out a full-length interview countering that what he was saying was actually the party line, unless of course he was thrown out of the party.
And his line was that expressing concern over human rights violation in Balochistan was fine, but it was not an issue India can take to the UN, and it would raise the hackles of Iran, China, Afghanistan (though Kabul has since endorsed Modi’s view). Even before this could be sorted out, Chidambaram issued a statement suggesting the Congress explore alternative options with the National Conference and PDP to solve the current crisis in Kashmir. Again, the party denied it has any plans to interfere.
By the same logic, a suggestion that a Congress delegation visit the Valley was shot down by Azad on the ground that the atmosphere were not conducive for any political initiative. This too has been received with cynicism that the party ‘is not setting its own agenda’.
Digvijaya’s turn came with the Amnesty event fiasco. Making use of his position as Karnataka in-charge, he swung in to assert that the FIR was no charge-sheet.
If he was trying to deflect the sense that the Congress was mirroring the BJP, it barely worked. Sharma was there to peddle a centrist line that the grand old party ‘is with the law’ and policies that benefit the nation. Be it GST or sedition charge ‘we’ve been consistent’, he noted.
Well, Chandra Deo wants the party to pick up the cudgels for the tribals on the dilution of the Forest Rights Act by the Modi government.