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Tightrope walk by Congress in Pulwama aftermath

Party worried over bid to creat 'us-vs-them' binary
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi at a press briefing at the party headquarters on Monday.

Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 18.02.19, 10:22 PM

The Congress has cautioned people against divisive ploys being used in the aftermath of the Pulwama tragedy and subtly asked the government to desist from trying to exploit the situation for political gain.

Taking a step towards removing the gag the party had imposed on itself during a period of national mourning — even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued his shrill campaign, using government platforms — the Congress on Monday spoke out against attacks on Kashmiris in different parts of the country.

“Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and no one can undo this reality. The unprovoked attack on Kashmiri students is an attack on our own citizens. By targeting Kashmiris, we are willy-nilly strengthening the venomous agenda of the separatist forces. Nobody should fall in that trap,” party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said at a news conference.

This was not even mild criticism of the government’s failure in maintaining law and order.

Asked if the Congress was worried about the active involvement of RSS-BJP supporters in a divisive campaign on social media and elsewhere to create an “us-versus-them” binary over the Pulwama tragedy, including explicit calls to lynch some activists and journalists, Singhvi opened up a bit but did not drop his restraint.

“It worries us. This is being largely done by the ruling party supporters as they are looking for scapegoats within our country. The true test of democracy and the spirit of accommodation is in the time of adversity. By creating divisions among ourselves and targeting our own citizens, we shall be playing in the hands of same forces, which want to divide us. Any right-minded individual, group or party will not fall into that trap. That ought not to happen,” Singhvi said, taking care not to sound like he was attacking the government.

The Congress leader added that every citizen had the right to feel outraged by the ghastly attack on our security forces and that any attempt to question the sacrifice of our soldiers should be dealt with firmly.

Asked about the Prime Minister’s continued political pitch, he said: “Each of us citizens and politicians should work within the self-imposed discipline, show maturity and react wisely. Any attempt to take political mileage will not be appreciated by the people.”

Such a restrained discourse is unrecognisable now as the nation is accustomed to a loud and biting rhetoric, manifest vividly in the “Chowkidar chor hai” slogan. In the past, for long before the Pulwama attack, the Congress had accused the Prime Minister of leading a disastrous policy in Jammu and Kashmir and being dangerously clueless on Pakistan. It had based its criticism on abnormal rise in ceasefire violations, casualties and major terror attacks in the last four years.

Asked if the leadership was nervous about the sudden death of the anti-Modi narrative, many leaders said a tactical retreat was needed in the current situation but added the Opposition would have to creatively resurrect normal political discourse without losing time. One leader, however, explained the difficulties: “We are not sure how the scenario will unfold. There is no way the government can ignore the public sentiment after creating such an abnormal hype. We can’t jump the gun.”

He added: “A counter-narrative will take shape on its own. The turn of events has doubtless put the government in the driver’s seat. Whatever we say may prove to be counter-productive as the government is taking the discourse in a certain direction. We see an emotional turmoil on the ground, aided fanatically by the media, and a spectacular offensive must be on the cards. We have to wait and watch. But it will boomerang if the government tries to milk it like a cow. The law of diminishing returns applies to every situation.”

The Congress has reasons to be worried as Rahul Gandhi was in full swing on the campaign and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had perched herself on top of the national curiosity chart when the Pulwama tragedy struck. The BJP has since been spared questions on Rafale, agrarian distress and jobs and the Prime Minister is deftly playing on the outrage in the country over the death of 40 jawans.

Another Congress spokesperson, Shaktisinh Gohil, also focused on the attempts to create divisions within Indian society.

He said: “Terrorism is a threat to entire humanity. No colour can be attached to it. Every citizen should stay alert against the attempts to divide and weaken us. Some people may try to create divisions, an agenda that the terrorists too have, to instigate Indians against Indians on religious and other grounds, but the people will teach them a lesson.”

Gohil argued that the true tribute to the martyrdom of our soldiers would be to rise above narrow identities and stay united. “Soldiers of every state, every religion have sacrificed their lives,” he said.

The emphasis of Congress leaders on unity betrays the fear of polarisation on religious lines and a false binary on nationalism and Pakistan. These apprehensions will only deepen if the government delivers on the promise for “revenge”, even if it is less than a full-scale war.


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