CHANDIGARH — While the Congress leadership in Delhi has struggled to articulate a coherent political response to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s decision to nullify Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcate the state into two union territories, veteran Congressman and Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh has leveraged his “army veteran” status to both condemn the decision and avoid being drawn into a debate over his “patriotism”
When Home Minister Amit Shah first announced the decision on the floor of the Rajya Sabha on August 5, the BJP and its supporters went on overdrive to describe anyone who opposed the decision as “anti-national”.
Singh appeared unruffled by this strategy. He described the decision as “totally unconstitutional and undemocratic”, even as he banned any demonstrations in favour of, or against the decision.
As the Chief Minister of a state with a border with Pakistan, Singh criticised the Home Minister for jeopardising national security by not seeking a political consensus on a significant departure on India’s Kashmir policy.
A week later, on August 12, the Chief Minister hosted 125 Kashmiri students for lunch at Punjab Bhawan in Chandigarh on the occasion of Eid-al-Adha — thereby burnishing his, and the Congress party’s pluralistic credentials.
The next day on August 13, he harrumphed angrily at Pakistan minister Fawad Chaudhry’s appeal to Punjabi soldiers to refuse to serve in Kashmir.
As a consequence, Singh has managed to appear tough on national security, empathetic to the Kashmiri people, and opposed to the de facto abrogation of Article 370.
The Lunch Diplomacy
Punjab has over 8000 Kashmiri students enrolled in the state’s public and private universities. Most of them could not go home for Eid this year, because of the unrest in the Valley after Article 370 was nullified.