SRINAGAR: Amid a raging controversy over senior Congress leader P Chidambaram's autonomy remarks on Jammu and Kashmir that has triggered a political storm, the state's opposition National Conference on Sunday put its weight behind the demand for "restoration of autonomy" and asked the government to end, what it called, was a "muscular policy".
The National Conference delegates' conference, which met after a gap of 15 years, also asked the centre to initiative "political dialogue".
But Farooq Abdullah, who was re-elected as the party chief, didn't spare the Congress either. "We want our autonomy back. Give it back to us. .. It's the Congress which has snatched autonomy from us," Mr Abdullah told the party workers at the conclave, the biggest gathering of a mainstream political party in the Kashmir Valley after the 2016 unrest.
Former Home Minister P Chidambaram's remark had yesterday said calls for "azaadi", or freedom in Kashmir, for an overwhelming majority, essentially was a demand for more autonomy.
The senior Congress leader was, however, roasted by the ruling BJP that accused him of encouraging separatism.
"The position the Congress has taken with regard to 'Azadi' or autonomy to be given to Jammu and Kashmir, goes directly contrary to India's national interest," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.
Later, PM Modi also accused Mr Chidambaram of speaking in the same language as separatists in Kashmir. The former Home Minister rebutted the charge, saying that PM Modi was "imagining a ghost and attacking it".
But former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also waded into the controversy. "If demanding autonomy within the Constitution of India, is anti-national, we are glad to be persistent with our demand," the junior Abdullah said.
The controversy comes against the backdrop of the government appointing a former intelligence chief Dineshwar Sharma to start a "sustained dialogue" with all stakeholders. As the BJP targeted Mr Chidambaram, Former Chief Mininster Omar Abdullah stepped in to ask what the interlocutor was going to talk about if even discussing autonomy was "anti-national".
But the Congress has been wary of getting dragged into the debate and rushed to distance the party from Mr Chidambaram's statement, saying an "opinion of an individual is not necessarily the opinion of the party".
The Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said the Congress was still to get a report from a 'policy and planning' panel led by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that was looking into all issues in context of Kashmir.