AHEAD OF Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with key political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir this week, senior Congress leader and former J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said Monday that restoration of “full statehood” will be “top of the agenda”.
However, Azad, who has been invited for the June 24 meeting, was non-committal on whether he would demand restoration of special status to J&K. The meeting is the first such exercise by the Union Government since the abrogation of Article 370 and splitting of J&K into two Union Territories in August 2019.
“Sabse unchi demand statehood ki hogi (Statehood will be the top demand). That will be top of the agenda. And it was promised on the floor of the House as well. Full-fledged statehood…not L-G’s statehood,” Azad told The Indian Express.
Asked about Article 370, the Congress leader said he is in talks with party leaders from both Jammu and Kashmir, and it is too early to comment.
“I am consulting Congress leaders from both Jammu and Kashmir. After that, I will seek guidance from our party’s leadership — the Congress president and former prime minister Manmohan Singh — and those colleagues who were directly or indirectly involved in this….So it is too early to say. Yes, I can say that full statehood will be top of the agenda,” Azad said. “We will formulate our stance… policy…after consultations and deliberations.”
Sources said the J&K Policy Planning Group of the Congress will meet Tuesday to give final shape to the party’s stand for the meeting. Apart from Azad, the panel comprises Manmohan Singh, Karan Singh, P Chidambaram, AICC in-charge Rajni Patil, Tariq Hamid Karra and Ghulam Ahmed Mir.
Azad lauded the Government for taking such a step, “especially since the meeting is physical”. “We will get an opportunity to discuss freely,” he said. Apart from Azad, the other Congress leader believed to have been invited for the meeting is the party’s J&K chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir.
Azad, the former Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, had been heavily critical of the Union Government for scrapping Article 370. His latest remarks, however, mirror the Congress’s official view — despite the differing opinions within — that stresses more on restoration of statehood and restart of the democratic process than Article 370.
On Sunday, the party reiterated its position with its communication department head Randeep Surjewala referring to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) resolution of August 6, 2019, demanding restoration of full statehood.
While the resolution had attacked the BJP government on the manner in which Article 370 was abrogated and J&K downgraded and split into two Union Territories, it shied away from demanding restoration of Article 370.
Arguing that Article 370 is the Constitutional recognition of the terms of the Instrument of Accession between the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and India, the CWC had merely said that it deserved to be honoured until it was amended after consultation with all sections in strict accordance with the Constitution.
On the stripping of J&K’s statehood, the resolution had said that “Jammu & Kashmir acceded to India as one State and no government has the power to change its status or divide it or reduce any part of it to a Union Territory.”
Azad’s latest comments came on the day former Union minister and CWC member Chidambaram demanded restoration of status quo ante in J&K.
“Congress Party’s position, reiterated yesterday, that full Statehood must be restored to J&K should clear any doubt or ambiguity. What was made under the Constitution cannot be unmade by an Act of Parliament misinterpreting and misusing the provisions of the Constitution. Please remember that the dismembering of J&K has been challenged in the Supreme Court and the cases are pending for nearly 2 years. In the monsoon session, Parliament should repeal the offending laws and restore the status quo ante in J&K. That is the only way to draw the starting line for a political resolution of the Kashmir issue,” he tweeted.
He said Jammu and Kashmir was a ‘state’ that signed an Instrument of Accession and acceded to India, and it must enjoy that status forever. “J&K is not a piece of ‘real estate’. J&K is ‘people’. Their rights and wishes must be respected,” he said.