Azad’s Pitch For Statehood

FORMER Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has called on the Centre to conclude the delimitation process in the union territory by February and hold assembly polls immediately after the winter. Addressing a workers' meeting in Devsar area of south Kashmir's Kulgam on Saturday, Azad also said it was not feasible to conduct polls during the next four months of winter. The former chief minister once again made a strong pitch for the restoration of statehood which, according to him, should be followed up with the delimitation. He rightly said there was no difference of opinion in Kashmir and Jammu over the grant of statehood. “Hindu brothers in Jammu, Sikhs, Muslims in Kashmir and even Pandits want statehood,” he said.

Significantly, Azad also called for the restoration of August 4, 2019 position in J&K, something he had been shying away from saying so far. However, he added that till the time the August 4 position was restored, the centre should grant J&K statehood. In his speech, however, Azad ensured he maintained a balance between the sensitivities in Jammu and Kashmir. Recently, many of his loyalists quit the Congress party in the union territory in protest against the current state president of the party Ghulam Ahmad Mir.

But will the centre pay any attention to Azad’s pleas on statehood? It is least likely to do so, despite the fact that Azad enjoys a great relationship with prime minister Narendra Modi. When Azad’s tenure in Rajya Sabha ended early this year, PM Modi had broken down in his farewell speech for him. But so far as making any political concessions on Kashmir is concerned, there seems hardly any possibility of a rethink in the union government. The centre has no immediate plan to restore statehood. This was also obvious from the recent visit of the home minister Amit Shah to J&K. Statehood, the home minister said will be followed by the fresh delimitation of Assembly seats in J&K and the subsequent elections. A delimitation commission has already been in place for the last over a year and it may soon complete its mandate. The enhancement of the Assembly seats, Shah said, will be followed by holding  the elections within the union territory framework.

It is not clear whether the statehood that would hopefully come after delimitation and the election would be full or a truncated one where the real power would vest with the governor. Such an arrangement, according to mainstream J&K politicians, would hardly be enough to make a redeeming difference to the existing state of affairs, as fundamentally there won’t be much that would change on the ground.  But here’s hoping that things change for the good and the centre does reach out to Kashmir if not make some real political concessions.

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