Home Global Village Congress manifesto: Cooperation with Pakistan & relaxation of laws in Kashmir

Congress manifesto: Cooperation with Pakistan & relaxation of laws in Kashmir


News Desk |

On Tuesday, the Indian National Congress announced its manifesto for the upcoming Indian National Election, which included, amongst other factors, a revival of SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] and close cooperation with neighboring and regional countries, including Pakistan.

With a prominent tagline, “Congress Will Deliver”, Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi, surrounded by former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his mother Sonia Gandhi, introduced his manifesto and poll promises for the upcoming elections. Without making any specific references to Pakistan’s role in SAARC, the Congress manifesto mentions a revival of SAARC, which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government had discarded last year to deepen the diplomatic rift with Islamabad.

The manifesto promises to pass a law that will “prohibit the use of third-degree methods during custody or interrogation and punish cases of torture, brutality or other police excesses.”

The manifesto mentions that close coordination with neighboring states, including Sri Lanka and Pakistan, to overcome the challenges faced by fishermen. The Congress party has highlighted its plan to revive SAARC and use its templates to improve regional cooperation, a platform that the BJP-led government has always been critical of approaching. The manifesto states, “Congress will work with Saarc and Asian countries to enhance the volume of trade, investments, tourism, and cultural exchanges and reap the benefits of geographical proximity.”

While referring to Pakistan and the popular rhetoric of terror-sponsoring, the Congress manifesto intends to address this challenge by stating that it will “persuade other countries to compel Pakistan to verifiable end its support to terrorist groups that it shelters”. In a bid to avoid facing the wrath of the nationalistic political forces of India, the manifesto attempts to take a stance against terrorism and vows to work towards engaging with the United Nations and its terror financing and sanctions list to curb terrorism in the region.

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The Congress manifesto also highlighted other sensitive issues that stir the nationalistic fervor with a softer approach, including the issue of dialogue with Pakistan, human rights violations in Kashmir, and the military budgets. Congress intends to launch a review into revoking all outdated and unreasonable laws that undermine the freedoms of the Indian population. It announces omitting Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which outlines the offence of sedition, a law that the Congress believes “has been misused”.

The 55-page long document packs up the promises of a separate budget for farmers, providing employment opportunities with 22 million government vacancies, allocating 6% of the GDP to education, improving healthcare infrastructure and promoting the safety of women amongst others.

Congress Manifesto on Kashmir

The Congress manifesto exhibited a compunctious stance on Kashmir while specific mentions of undertaking measures against torture and human rights violations. The manifesto reads, “The Congress promises to review the deployment of armed forces in J&K, move more troops to the borders to stop infiltration completely reduce the presence of the army and CAFPs (central armed forces personnel) in the Kashmir Valley, and entrust more responsibility to the Jammu and Kashmir police for maintaining law and order.”

The manifesto states, “Congress will work with Saarc and Asian countries to enhance the volume of trade, investments, tourism, and cultural exchanges and reap the benefits of geographical proximity.”

Congress’s poll document further promises to review the special powers act, AFSPA that gives impunity to the Indian armed forces, and the Disturbed Areas Act (DDA) in IAK and make suitable changes to these laws in order to “balance the requirements of security and the protection of human rights of citizens and to remove immunity for enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture”.

The party has promised to reduce the presence of the Indian army and paramilitary forces in the Kashmir, and exercise fairness in responding to the demands of the people. The manifesto promises to pass a law that will “prohibit the use of third-degree methods during custody or interrogation and punish cases of torture, brutality or other police excesses.” On the issue of Kashmir separatism, the Congress manifesto states that Congress has always held firmly to the belief that dialogue is the only way to address the demands of the Kashmiri people and come to an “honorable solution”.

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With a two-pronged approach, Congress proposes to bring peace in the valley by exercising “uncompromising firmness on the border and ending infiltration; and secondly, absolute fairness in dealing with the demands of the people and winning their hearts and minds.” The manifesto has also raised concern over cases of discrimination and harassment of Kashmiri students and traders across India, and promises to “ensure their safety and their right to study or do business”.

The document reads, “Jammu and Kashmir and its problems deserve a large-hearted approach that will eschew muscular militarism and legalistic formulations and look for an innovative federal solution,” the document reads. “Congress promises to find such a solution through patient dialogue and talks with all stakeholders in the state”.

On Wednesday, while addressing a rally in Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh, Indian Prime Minister Modi labelled the Congress manifesto as a “hypocrisy document” that is “full of lies” and “corrupt”.

While accusing the Modi-led BJP government of spreading hate and inciting violence to promote ethnic divisions throughout its five-year tenure, Congress President Rahul Gandhi stressed, “Their (the BJP) record in J&K is in front of you. Terror casualties are mounting.” Gandhi promised that Congress will promote unity and harmony, and noted, “There will be a major focus on national and internal security.”

The poll document notes that “India is a project of inclusiveness. Jammu and Kashmir and its problems deserve a large-hearted approach that will eschew muscular militarism and legalistic formulations and look for an innovative federal solution. Congress promises to find such a solution through patient dialogue and talks with all stakeholders in the state”.

Modi Slams Congress’ “Hypocrisy Document”

The Congress Manifesto has drawn the wrath of the supposedly nationalistic leaders of the BJP, who are referring it as a document that is supportive of terrorist and favorable to the agendas of separatists. On Wednesday, while addressing a rally in Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh, Indian Prime Minister Modi labelled the Congress manifesto as a “hypocrisy document” that is “full of lies” and “corrupt”.

Read more: Modi tells Congress not to give lectures on democracy

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj criticized the Congress manifesto and Congress President Rahul Gandhi in a strongly worded statement, as quoted by News18, she said, “The Congress manifesto has made deshdrohi (traitor) and algavwadi (separatist) people happy. It is unfortunate for the country that on one side Prime Minister Narendra Modi is giving a befitting reply to Pakistan’s terror attacks with surgical and air strikes. On the other hand, the Congress president (Rahul Gandhi) is refusing to accept treason as a crime.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the BJP leaders criticized the ideas of reducing military presence in Kashmir and increasing the political autonomy of the people as “positively dangerous”. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley referred that these ideas are “an agenda for the Balkanization of India”.

Read more: Congress surrenders to the BJP?

Mehbooba Mufti, President of IAK’s PDP, praised the Congress manifesto for exhibiting “great courage”. Mufti tweeted, “Congress has shown great courage by endorsing issues PDP incorporated in its agenda of alliance with BJP. Revocation of AFSPA, not fiddling with JK constitutional provisions & holding unconditional dialogue. The roadmap PDP envisages is the only solution for a peaceful J&K”.

Mina Jahangir with additional input by News Desk.