‘Statehood should be restored first, then elections’: Ghulam Nabi Azad

Senior Congress leader and former J&K chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was among those who attended the PM’s meeting on Thursday, speaks to The Indian Express about the issues raised at the meeting, and the expectations.

How was the all-party meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

The meeting, of course, was very good. In the sense that there was no time limit. I was the first speaker. And I raised the issue that the government should have circulated the agenda so that we would have come prepared for that subject. The government responded, saying you can speak freely…meeting has an open agenda…Many of us pointed out that such a meeting should have been held last year… The Prime Minister said, ‘Yes, I was equally keen to meet all of you but because of Covid restrictions… it was not possible to meet so many people together’.

Did you or others raise the issue of the way Article 370 was abrogated and the manner in which the state was downgraded as two union territories and its leaders, including former chief ministers, were jailed?

Yes. Everybody raised those issues… everybody spoke about the way the leaders were put in jail, the state was downgraded.

What did the PM say?

The Prime Minister said now we have to open a new chapter. ‘I have to work with the people of J&K… we have to build bridges among ourselves. Past is past. Let us talk about the future…’

What were your demands?

I said the most important issue is statehood… that the government had made commitments on the floor of both Houses of Parliament that statehood of J&K will be restored at an appropriate time… Secondly, I demanded that elections to the state legislature be held as early as possible… Thirdly, I asked the government to reassure the people of J&K that their historical domiciliary rights concerning land and state services will be protected. Equally important, I told them, was the issue of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pundits… Lastly, I demanded the release of all political prisoners…

What was the government’s response?

The Home Minister replied to three of these demands. He said elections will be held and statehood will be restored. On release of political prisoners, he said only about 70-75 are still under arrest… He said the government is having a review…

Why didn’t you demand restoration of Article 370?

I said that was also an issue but we are not going to press for that because it is before the SC…

What is now your expectation?

Home Minister has given an assurance on three of my demands… He said state elections will be held immediately after delimitation and statehood also we will give.

So elections will be held first?

I made it clear… I stopped the Home Minister and said that on behalf of everybody here… I would like to say that once the delimitation process is over… statehood should be restored first and then elections should be held.

So you are hopeful of the political situation returning to normal?

In one meeting, things would not improve. Some process has started… and I am sure that in future the government will take all political parties into confidence and there has to be some confidence building measures not with the political parties but among the people. The people of J&K should have confidence in the government. The mistrust should go. That is most important. The Prime Minister himself said there is mistrust and we all have to work on that.

The Prime Minister spoke about removing Dilli Ki and Dil Ki Doori? Would you say he should now walk the talk?

Let us hope so. I can’t say. I will be happy only when statehood Bill is brought before Parliament… and I will be happy only when elections are announced and I will be happy only when the process for rehabilitation of Kashmir Pundits takes place…

The BJP and even Home Minister Amit Shah had called signatories to the Gupkar declaration Gupkar gang among other things. And today the Prime Minister and the Home Minister met all of them… how do you see that?

That was said by the speakers [at the meeting] that we were abused and we were jailed. But we have to close the chapter and we have to open a new chapter.

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