New Delhi: Retorting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's criticism of his remarks on Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said, on Sunday, that he was "imagining a ghost and attacking it" and maintained that those criticising him should first read his comments.
Chidambaram said it was obvious that the prime minister had not read the whole answer to the question put to him on Jammu and Kashmir at an event in Rajkot on Saturday.
"Those who criticise must read the whole answer and tell me which word in the answer was wrong. The PM is imagining a ghost and attacking it," he said.
Asked during an interaction in Rajkot whether he still felt that Jammu and Kashmir should be accorded greater autonomy to defuse the unrest in the valley, he said, "Yes...The demand in Kashmir Valley is to respect in letter and spirit Article 370. And that means that they want greater autonomy. My interactions in Jammu and Kashmir led me to the conclusion that when they ask for 'azadi', most people - I am not saying all - (an) overwhelming majority want autonomy."
"Therefore, I think we should seriously examine that question and consider on what areas we can give autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir," the former Union home minister said.
Observing that granting such autonomy will be "perfectly within the Constitution of India", Chidambaram said, "Jammu and Kashmir will remain an integral part of India but it will have larger powers as promised under Article 370 (of the Constitution)."
At a rally in Bengaluru, the prime minister, on Sunday, came down heavily on the veteran Congress leader, terming his statement "shameful".
Without taking Chidambaram's name, Modi said, "All of a sudden, those who were in power till yesterday have taken a U-turn. Shamelessly, they are making a statement and are lending their voice for Kashmir's azadi."
"We will not make any compromise on the country's unity and integrity nor will allow anyone to do so," he said.
The prime minister said it was a reprehensible attempt by the Congress to support those calling for 'azadi' in Kashmir and this was nothing but "an insult to our soldiers".
The Congress has already distanced itself from Chidambaram's comments.
In a statement, Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala had said, "Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are an integral part of Indian Union and will always remain so unquestionably... (The) opinion of an individual is not necessarily the opinion of the Indian National Congress. In our democracy, individuals are entitled to opinions."
On Sunday, Chidambaram also said neither the Congress nor him had criticised the "surgical strike" carried out by the Indian Army on terror launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in September, 2016.
"We pointed out that these were cross-border actions and such actions had been done in the past too, as admitted by the Army Chief," he added....