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Chidambaram slams Centre’s offer of elections first, statehood later in Jammu and Kashmir

In the meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured the politicians of Jammu and Kashmir of the restoration of statehood after holding of assembly election, once the delimitation exercise is over.

A day after the Prime Minister’s all-party meeting with 14 political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, former Home Minister P. Chidambaram has slammed the Narendra Modi government for insisting on elections in the Union Territory before restoring statehood.

Chidambaram said the Congress and J&K parties and leaders want statehood restored first and elections afterwards, but the Centre’s response is elections first and statehood later.

He said this was like putting the cart before the horse, when it should in fact pull the cart. The Congress leader said statehood can ensure smoother conduct of elections. Only elections under a State Election Commission will be free and fair and called the government’s insistence on holding elections first bizarre.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir of restoring statehood after the assembly elections which would be held once the delimitation exercise, the immediate reason to hold the meeting, is over. He said he was glad about their commitment to the Constitution and democracy and said he wants to remove ‘Dilli ki Duri as well as Dil Ki Duri’.

This was the first official interaction of the Union government with political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir since August 5, 2019, after the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the border state into two union territories.

Among the leaders who attended the meeting were National Conference’s Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad, Tara Chand and GA Mir,  PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, J-K Apni Party’s Altaf Bukhari, BJP’s Ravinder Raina, Nirmal Singh, and Kavinder Gupta, Peoples Conference’s Sajad Gani Lone and CPI(M)’s MY Tarigami; National Panthers Party’s Prof Bheem Singh. 

Restoring statehood as promised in Parliament, the delimitation exercise and holding of peaceful elections in the Union Territory are important milestones, said Home Minister Amit Shah, who was present in the meeting, along with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor Manoj Sinha and the Home Secretary.

Omar Abdullah on meeting 

Addressing the media after the meeting, NC leader Omar Abdullah said it was the duty of the Centre to restore the broken trust of the people and take all measures required to restore statehood.

The former Chief Minister also said that they are going to use the constitutional right to challenge the decision of scrapping special status in the Supreme Court.

“It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court has not found the time to start hearings in these matters, but we are not going to stop. If we have to start a campaign, however long it is, we will do it peacefully, legally and constitutionally. We won’t put the people in harm’s way,” Abdullah said.

The National Conference leader and a former Chief Minister said decisions that weren’t in the interest of Kashmir should be taken back. It was given the status of a Union Territory, people don’t like it. They want full statehood for J&K and the J&K cadre restored, he said.

He said the delegation told the Prime Minister that they don’t stand with what was done on August 5, 2019. Though we don’t accept it, we are not going to take the law into our hands. We’ll fight this in court, Abdullah added.

Further, Abdullah said all leaders who participated in the meeting demanded full statehood for Jammu and Kashmir. Both Prime Minister and Home Minister said the work for elections and restoring statehood should start soon. However, Azad said that statehood should be restored first and only then should elections be held. On this Prime Minister didn’t say anything, he said.

The question over the PM’s talks with Pakistan was also discussed at the meeting. On this, Abdullah said it appears there are backchannel talks at some level if one goes by media reports. It is not the Government of India’s sole responsibility to create an atmosphere for talks, even Pakistan should ensure that it stops support to terrorism since talks cannot continue because of it.  

But we cannot also forget what someone like (former Prime Minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said — that we can change our friends but not our neighbours. Pakistan will remain our neighbour and somehow, by using back channels, we need to dissipate this atmosphere of tension,” he added.

What did Mehbooba Mufti say 

PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti said her party will relentlessly pursue the demand for the restoration of Article 370 and other special provisions enjoyed by the erstwhile state. She told the PM that the people of J&K do not accept how Article 370 was abrogated unconstitutionally, illegally and immorally.

The former Chief Minister said the people of Jammu and Kashmir are in a lot of difficulties after August 5, 2019. “They are angry, upset and emotionally shattered. They feel humiliated. I told the Prime Minister that people of Jammu and Kashmir do not accept the manner in which Article 370 was abrogated unconstitutionally, illegally and immorally,” she told reporters.

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She said that the people of Jammu and Kashmir will struggle constitutionally, democratically, and peacefully. Be it months or years, they will continue to agitate till Article 370 is restored in Jammu and Kashmir since it is a matter of the people’s identity. She said that identity was not given by Pakistan but it was conferred upon the people of Kashmir by their country, by Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel.

On the talks with Pakistan, the PDP president said that she congratulated PM Modi for the resumption of talks that has now led to a ceasefire and, as a result, the levels of infiltration have come down. They should continue talks with Pakistan if that will guarantee peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Mufti said they should also talk to Pakistan about trade with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir which has been halted as it is a source of employment for many in Jammu and Kashmir, she added.

In other India News, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s two-child policy most likely enforced as law in the next month’s budget session

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