Jammu & Kashmir statehood will be great gesture: Ghulam Nabi Azad

Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was part of the J&K team that met the PM, said the Centre should announce restoration of statehood in the July session of Parliament as Covid-19 can delay the plan to hold polls. Azad told TOI, “GOI must reassure the people of J&K that their historical domiciliary rights and state services will be protected.”

At the meeting called by the PM with political parties of J&K, the government did not respond to the Congress’s demand of domiciliary rights on land ownership and employment? Is it because of the shadow of Article 370?

GOI must reassure the people of J&K that their historical domiciliary rights concerning land and state services will be protected. This provision has existed historically since 1925. It is a requirement keeping in view historical, geographical and economic status of the region. It is there in Uttarakhand, northeast, Himachal Pradesh. If these provisions can be there in other states, why not in J&K? It has nothing to do with other things. Also, it can be given before statehood or assembly elections. I raised five points on behalf of the Congress at the meeting. But the government did not respond to two points – domiciliary rights and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits.

The government has promised elections and statehood. In your view, how long can this process take?

In 2018, J&K was a full-fledged state under governor’s rule. There can still be a state with a governor, and delimitation can take place under the governor, while we await elections. Statehood has nothing to do with elections. What is the problem in giving it? The government of India should announce statehood in the coming July-August session of Parliament through a one-line bill. It should show magnanimity. It will be a great gesture on its part.

What is driving this demand for immediate grant of statehood?

At the Prime Minister’s meeting, the government said elections will happen after delimitation. But this may take a lot of time as everything depends on the Covid-19 situation. If there is no third wave, it may take 5-6 months, but otherwise, we don’t know. It is uncertain, it may take a long time. But if statehood is announced now, it will ease things. It will fulfil one of the big demands of the region and help in confidence building.

You said the meeting has removed a lot of misunderstanding between the political parties of J&K and the Centre. But the government had lashed out at J&K parties earlier.

This meeting took place after a long, long, long time. Now, we hope that such meetings will be convened every 3-4 months. A lot happened in the past because of mistrust and misunderstanding. Had such meetings been held quarterly, then we would have understood each other better and there would not have been so much confusion. Doing everything through the agencies or back channel or governor does not solve problems. Talk to the political leaders directly. I expect that GOI will call such meetings more often.. In the past too, there have been bickering between the Centre and states, besides J&K. But in the end, all parties come together in national interest, and forego, forgive and forget. That is what has happened here. It is a sign of multi-party democracy.

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