Azad Bats for Statehood

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VISITING J&K first time after his Rajya Sabha term, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad called for restoration of statehood for J&K, lamenting that once India’s only globally known state had been reduced to the level of a district. He said all J&K parties including the RSS wanted it. Significantly, Azad was accompanied by other national level Congress leaders like Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Kapil Sibal, Raj Babbar, Anand Sharma, Vivek Tankha and Manish Tewari, who all form part of the G-23, a group of Congress dissenters seeking organisational reforms in the party. Azad also pointed out how in Ladakh only Leh demanded union territory status and Kargil opposed it.

Azad, who has been the former J&K Chief Minister also attacked the J&K administration saying that they had taxed everything other than the clothes worn by the people. He also called for the land and jobs to be protected for the locals only underlining how Jammu and Leh would suffer more than Kashmir and Ladakh in the absence of such a protection.

These are the issues which resonate not only in Jammu but also in Kashmir Valley. And by playing to these Azad has struck a chord in the former state. He is a leader who has always enjoyed a reasonable public support in Kashmir and Jammu. He has also built a degree of acceptability across the parties, something that was exemplified recently when Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke down while praising the Congress leader in parliament.

So, it was significant when Azad didn’t seek the restoration of Article 370 in his Jammu speech. When the article was revoked on August 5, 2019, it was Azad who had stoutly defended J&K’s special status in parliament.

The Congress leader’s visit to Jammu had another political sub-text: he was accompanied by members of G-23 who are currently at loggerheads with Congress high command and want the party to re-invent itself as an effective opposition to the BJP. So, J&K Congress president G A Mir was conspicuous by his absence.

That said, Azad’s demand for restoration of statehood needs to be heeded by the union government. Here’s hoping that the union government does take steps to restore J&K’s statehood at the earliest. On February 5 the government restored the high speed mobile internet in the union territory after eighteen months. Home minister Amit Shah recently gave an assurance in parliament that the Centre will grant full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir at “an appropriate time”. And this appropriate time is now. Over the last 18 months Kashmir has largely been peaceful and, if anything, this should be the overriding criteria in deciding in favour of a statehood for J&K.

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