Jammu: Several prominent persons, including three former ministers, affiliated with different political parties and an independent district development council (DDC) member on Monday pledged to safeguard the interests of Jammu province amid demands for restoration of statehood to J&K.
A seminar on "Understanding Jammu: Challenges and way ahead" was organised by Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan (DSS) founded by former minister Lal Singh, and was attended among others by Jammu and Kashmir Congress vice president Raman Bhalla and National Panthers Party (NPP) chairman Harsh Dev Singh, both former ministers.
They said the platform is not against any "religion or region" but an exercise to unite the people of Jammu region against the BJP which has allegedly betrayed them by its "hollow promises and misleading statements".
"The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, founded by Dogra rulers, was dismembered and promises were made to the people of Jammu region that the decades of discrimination will be undone they have misled the public and all their promises have proved a hoax, Bhalla said.
This was for the first time post abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 that different opposition parties shared a platform in the Jammu region.
"We all are together to ensure justice is done to Jammu. We are not here to snatch the rights of Kashmiris but we will not allow anyone to snatch our rights as well," the Congress leader said, demanding immediate restoration of statehood and constitutional safeguards for the protection of land and jobs for the locals.
He also slammed the BJP for the "deteriorating" law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir and said the target killings by militants in the valley are unabated, while the border population suffered immensely over the years due to cross-border shelling by Pakistan.
The DSS founder said he has taken upon himself to unite Jammu against the alleged onslaught of the ruling party on the interests of the people.
After parting ways with the BJP in July 2018, Lal Singh has come out with a 21-point vision document focused on various demands, including rotational chief ministers, equal opportunity of employment, protection and consumption of natural resources and Dogra certificates.
However, after the revocation of the special status and bifurcation of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into Union Territories in August 2019, Singh has been propagating separate statehood for the Jammu region.
"Initially, the BJP was talking about trifurcation of J&K but ended up bifurcating the state. We have a beautiful constitution (of J&K) which was legal but was taken away from us illegally," he said, vowing to continue his struggle for the implementation of his 21-point agenda and restoration of statehood.
He said the BJP government is "hoodwinking the public by lollipops" but the people have seen its real face as the rate of unemployment in J&K has gone up and is highest in the country with development taking a back seat, especially across the Jammu region.
NPP chairman and former minister Harsh Dev Singh gave a clarion call to the civil society, students, youth, traders and farmers of Jammu to unite for the cause of the region, saying "it is high time that pro Jammu forces joined hands to defeat and dethrone those who had betrayed the cause of the Dogra land".
"The very leaders in whom Jammu reposed its faith had betrayed it and relegated it to worse than second class status. The faith of the Jammu people in the present dispensation had been completely shaken in view of unprecedented bias to which the region had been subjected," he said.
Singh said it was therefore necessary to bring about a change in the system by rejecting the opportunist leaders and promoting a class of leadership which can truly espouse the cause of the incarcerated land of Dogras.
Referring to the August 2019 development, he said the rulers invoked Governor's Rule and then used the governor's consent to dismantle the historical Dogra state and demote it to the level of UT.
"Let's unite to fight the nefarious designs of those who are desperate to demolish our culture and destroy our pristine glory, Singh said.
DCC member S Taranjit Singh Tony also lashed out at the BJP for its policies and said attempts are being made to silence those who speak against the ruling party.
"We need BJP 'Mukt Bharat' instead of J&K 'Mukt Bharat' for our survival,'' he said, adding that the Jammu region was far better under the rule of Kashmiri leaders than the BJP.
Tony, who defeated former BJP minister from DDC constituency Suchetgarh in Jammu, demanded immediate restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, asking people to follow the slogan "till no state, no vote for BJP".
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