Manmohan Singh-led Group Arrives in Jammu

Jammu—Nearly five months since its formation, the policy and planning group of the Congress on Jammu and Kashmir, headed by former prime minister Manmohan Singh, today held closed-door discussions with the leaders of the Congress and other oppositions parties.


Nearly 20 delegations representing cross-section of the society also met with the group, which included former union ministers P Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni, that arrived here today on a maiden two-day visit.


State Congress unit president G A Mir, former MP Tariq Hameed Karra and former minister Nawang Rigzin Jora are also members of the group.


The former PM arrived nearly an hour after Chidambaram, Azad and Soni drove to the convention centre here around noon and immediately chaired the executive meeting of the party leaders, including MLAs and MLCs.


"The panel acquainted themselves with the broader party view on the overall security and political situation in the state," Chief Spokesperson of state Congress unit Ravinder Sharma told PTI.


He said the party leaders highlighted the deteriorating security situation and sought political engagement to address the issues confronting the state for restoration of peace and normalcy in the state.


The group was set up by the Congress in April after the situation worsened in the valley due to widespread violence by protesters following the death of eight persons in firing by security forces during bypolls to the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency.


After the hour-long meeting with the state party leadership, the spokesperson said, nearly 20 delegations representing various opposition political parties and cross- section of the society briefed the panel, highlighting regional aspirations, alleged discrimination and failure of the state government on all fronts.


Several delegations also expressed their views about Article 35A and Article 370 of the Constitution, which give special status to J-K.


While the National Conference, the CPI(M) and some other delegations favoured continuation of the constitutional provisions, some others sought the support of the party in abrogation of the provisions and immediate deportation of illegally-settled foreign nationals, including Rohingyas and Bangladeshis.


The NC's provincial president, Devender Rana, who led the party delegation in the meeting, said J-K is going through a crucial phase and it is the responsibility of everyone to come forward and join hands to restore peace and normalcy.


"We told the Congress leadership that National Conference is for the betterment of the people of the state and is desirous of peace and prosperity in the state," he told reporters after the meeting.


Suggesting the Congress to take a stand on J-K, Rana said the onus lies with the present leadership of the party to emerge and cooperate, coordinate and implement together an agenda at the national level by developing a consensus to ensure that normalcy is restored in the state.


"Not only the Congress, every political party must close their ranks and join hands to practically implement Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement on Independence Day function to embrace the people of Kashmir so that peace is restored in the state," he said.


He also termed as "unfortunate" the "failure" of the previous UPA government to implement the recommendations of the working groups on Kashmir and the interlocutors' report and said the party should extend its support to the ruling NDA at the Centre to work out a solution to the Kashmir imbroglio.


Rana said the NC would go all out to preserve Article 35A of the Constitution as it is of paramount importance for the people of the state.


Regional Secretary of state unit of CPI(M) Sham Prasad Kaiser also favoured continuation of the Article 35A and article 370 of the Constitution and said any tinkering with the provisions will have disastrous consequences in the already deteriorated situation in the state.


"The Congress panel has basically come to seek a solution to the prevailing situation in the state... We suggested dialogue on internal and external fronts to resolve the Kashmir issue instead of using military power," he said.


Prasad said he favoured dialogue with all stakeholders, especially separatists, in the state and Pakistan as well.


The Jammu Bar Association, led by president B S Slathia, submitted a five-page memorandum to the Congress panel, demanding among other things abrogation of the Article 35A.


"Article 35A is against the very spirit of the Indian constitution of 1950 and the preamble of J-K Constitution of 1957 ... It deprives all the Indians living outside the state of their right to exercise any right in the state, thus creating a situation in which they are considered a persona non grata in Jammu and Kashmir," the memorandum said.


It said the Article has deprived nearly two lakh refugees from Pakistan all citizenship rights in the state and makes unjust distinction between male and female residents of the state.


It also raised the issue of Rohingyas and Bangladeshi nationals in Jammu and Samba districts and claimed their presence tantamount to demographic change in the region and advocated for their early deportation.


President of Dogri Sanstha, Jammu, Chhatrapal alleged that the people of Jammu have always received "raw treatment" by both state and central governments and have been taken for granted.


"The Dogri language, which is our identity, must get its due at par with Kashmiri as both the languages enjoy equal status in the Constitution of the country and the state," he said.


The panel would visit Kashmir Valley on September 16 and 17 and the Ladakh region on a later date.


A Kashmiri Pandit delegation raised the issue of their return to the valley.

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