Former Union Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Saturday said that when most people of jammu and Kashmir seek azadi, they mean autonomy, ANI reported. The government must examine the autonomy demand, he told reporters in Rajkot, Gujarat.

The state will remain a part of India but will have “larger powers as promised under Article 370 of the Constitution,” Chidambaram said.

His statement was criticised by members of the government. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal tweeted that it was time for freedom from the Congress.

Chidambaram described the appointment of an interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir as a “diversionary” tactic, in an interview to The Wire.

Former Intelligence Bureau Director Dineshwar Sharma was appointed on October 23 to initiate dialogue with elected representatives of the state, political parties, different organisations and residents of the state. Chidambaram said that this move was only meant to appease a section of people who were asking why the government was not holding talks.

“The appointment of the interlocutor should not lead us to think that there is a change of heart of the government.” He said, adding that he believes the government will continue to hold on to its “muscular policy and military solution” in Jammu and Kashmir.

Government criticises Chidambaram

Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani also rebuked the Congress leader later in the day. She said his comments were not only shocking but also “disgusting”, ANI reported.

It is quite shocking and disgusting that P Chidambaram today speaks about breaking the Union of India into pieces and supports those who actually murdered our security forces just so they can play havoc with the law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir, Irani said.

However, she added, “I am not surprised by Chidambaram’s statement, as it reflects the Congress’ mentality.” Irani also attacked Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and said that he is a known supporter of “anti-national elements”, in reference to the protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“What is the message Congress is trying to give, that at their doorstep of political gain, they are willing to sacrifice nationhood?” Irani asked.