Senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have termed certain aspects of the Congress manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as “positively dangerous", harbouring an “agenda of Balkanization", and a blueprint that will compromise national security.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Because good “cred" isn’t earned by traumatizing those we call our own, but by acknowledging they are citizens first, with Constitutional rights. The Congress intends to walk in that direction. That’s excellent, even allowing for the caveat that some promises keep hot air balloons afloat for at least five years. I shall discuss more aspects in future, but for now, here are a few key points of the Congress manifesto that have critics flailing.

It suggests an overhaul of India’s policy in Jammu and Kashmir without compromising in any way India’s territory and security. “Congress promises to review the deployment of armed forces, move more troops to the border to stop infiltration completely, reduce the presence of the Army and CAPFs (Central Armed Police Forces, or paramilitaries) in the Kashmir Valley, and entrust more responsibility to the J&K police for maintaining law and order."

This is a copybook hearts-and-minds play. As is a promise to review the local version of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA, and the Disturbed Areas Act AFSPA rides on. The offer of “talks without preconditions" actually takes a leaf from the BJP’s briefly-practised playbook, when in late 2017 it appointed a former Intelligence Bureau director as interlocutor. He offered this: “For a substantive dialogue, I will need to talk to everybody." It’s actually been downhill since 2016, including the matter of preventing terrorist attacks, besides the policy and political situation.

The Congress manifesto’s intent to appoint three interlocutors for such talks is a throwback to an exercise over 2010-2011, during which three interlocutors held over 350 meetings with a cross-section of people, including displaced Kashmiri Pandits and representatives of the Sangh Parivar, though not “separatists" in a substantive way. A report, A New Compact with the People of Jammu and Kashmir, emerged from it in 2012, the exercise commissioned by the Congress-led government of the time. At any rate, it’s a fine thing if India’s J&K policy is not leveraged by any government to project a muscular image to the rest of the country, but an inclusive image.

Equally, the Congress suggestion to “omit" Section 124A of the IPC, the so-called sedition law, isn’t an act of weakness. Besides being a real redundancy, it remains—as this column has pointed out, using several examples—among the most misused laws in India. It has also gratuitously drawn in thousands of farmers, fisherfolk, and tribal folk and forest dwellers fighting their displacement for industrial projects.

To amend—if not repeal—AFSPA as applied away from J&K, primarily in the North-East, is imperative. The Congress manifesto reverses the party’s earlier hypocrisy. AFSPA has led to gross abuse of power in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam and elsewhere, especially with non-combatants—written off as collateral damage.

This aspect has triggered great erosion of national integrity or thoughts of belonging with India. What a member of Parliament from Manipur termed a “lawless law" during its birth in 1958 emerged as a symbol by which India brutalizes the very people it claims as its own. Two government committees, in 2005 and 2007, recommended repealing the act. More recommended “critical review".

Respected security officials from the intelligence fraternity, including a serving deputy national security adviser, and police, have emphatically called for its removal. It took massive public protests in 2004—including several naked women carrying anti-army banners in Imphal, and cases of self-immolation—over the rape and custodial killing of Thangjam Manorama by Assam Rifles personnel, for the prime minister at the time, Manmohan Singh, to promise to replace AFSPA with a more “humane" law. Nothing happened.

If some good sense has finally arrived in the political mainstream, it ought to be welcomed for the sake of true national security.

This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights. Read Sudeep Chakravarti’s earlier columns at