Under scathing attack from the prime minister, Chidambaram said in New Delhi that Modi imagined a 'ghost and was attacking it'.
Congress leader P Chidambaram's advocacy of greater autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir prompted a fierce attack on the party by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who today accused it of "shamelessly"
lending its voice to calls for 'Kashmir's azadi'.
"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," Modi told Bharatiya Janata Party workers in Bengaluru.
Chidambaram, a former Union home minister, had said in poll-bound Gujarat's Rajkot on Saturday that when people of Jammu and Kashmir ask for azadi, most of them mean they want greater autonomy.
"The demand in the Kashmir Valley is to respect the letter and spirit of Article 370, that means they want greater autonomy. My interactions in J&K led me to the conclusion that when they ask for azadi, mostly, I am not saying all... the overwhelming majority, they want autonomy."
"Yes, I do," Chidambaram said when he was asked if he still thinks that Jammu and Kashmir should be given greater autonomy.
Under scathing attack from the prime minister, Chidambaram said in New Delhi on Sunday that Modi imagined a 'ghost and was attacking it'.
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 the Rajkot event.
"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 told PTI.
Observing that granting such autonomy will be 'perfectly within the Constitution of India', Chidambaram had said on Saturday, "Jammu and Kashmir will remain an integral part of India but it will have larger powers as promised under Article 370".
Without taking Chidambaram's name, the prime minister said, "I am surprised that those who were in power at the Centre, those who were responsible for the country's internal security and national security (are saying this)."
Modi said the country had no hope or expectations from the Congress.
Noting that Sardar Patel took important decisions for the country's unity, he said thousands of jawans have sacrificed their lives for Kashmir.
"The country's soldiers have sacrificed their lives every moment for the sake of security of the motherland and innocent citizens of Kashmir.
"I want to ask the people of Bengaluru, can the country benefit from such people who are playing politics on the sacrifice of our soldiers? They don't have any shame in saying this. The Congress party will have to give an answer for this (Chidambaram's) statement," he said.
In his impassioned speech, Modi said, "Those bravehearts who have sacrificed their lives, mothers who have lost their sons for the country...that mother is asking the question, that sister who has lost her brother is asking the question, and the child who has lost his father is asking the question."
But, he said, the Congress was 'shamelessly using such language as is used by the separatists in Kashmir. (They are) using the language that is spoken by Pakistan'.
Chidambaram had in July 2016 advocated greater autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir, saying India should restore the 'grand bargain' under which Kashmir had acceded by granting a large degree of autonomy to it.
He had warned that otherwise the country will have to pay a 'heavy price'.
The Congress, however, sought to distance itself from the remarks of Chidambaram on Kashmir, saying the 'opinion of an individual is not necessarily the opinion of the party'.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had said Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and 'will always remain so unquestionably'.
Will continue struggle for restoration of J&K's autonomy: National Conference
The opposition National Conference passed a resolution on Sunday, vowing to continue its struggle for restoration of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir as enshrined in the Constitution of India.
"We continue to strive for the restoration of autonomy and restoration of Article 370 to its original, pristine form, while condemning those divisive voices who are opposed to the sovereign constitutional guarantees extended to the people of the state," the resolution passed at a delegates' session of the National Conference in Srinagar reads.
NC president Farooq Abdullah and working president Omar Abdullah were present the delegates' session of the party held after a gap of 15 years and attended by thousands of party delegates from all three regions of the state.
It said National Conference has always worked within the constitutional parameters that enshrine the state's special status.
The party said the Kashmir issue should be solved through a sustained dialogue with both internal and external stakeholders, an apparent reference to separatists and Pakistan.
'The recently announced initiative through a representative of the Government of India should have clarity and seriousness of purpose to ensure the sanctity of the institution of dialogue is restored and upheld,' the party resolution said.
Calling for a political initiative, the party said a singular focus on military and operational mechanism to deal with the Kashmir issue 'in the absence of a political initiative' is a 'dangerous' approach and continues to alienate the people.
"We urge both India and Pakistan to initiate a sustained, sustainable and comprehensive dialogue process to resolve all outstanding issues," it said.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir is the 'worst victim of animosity' between the two neighbouring countries and has the most to benefit from mutual cooperation and peace between the two countries, the party said.
'It is for this purpose that our party wishes to see the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration to be rejuvenated to usher the entire subcontinent, especially Jammu and Kashmir, into an era of peace and stability,' it added.