Kunal Shrivatsa

Restoration of statehood, protection of land and job rights of J&K people tops priority-list of Azad’s yet-to-be-named new party

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Jammu: After breaking his five-decade-long association with the Congress, Ghulam Nabi Azad on Sunday made his intentions clear to begin a fresh political journey from his home turf with a focus on restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir while also protecting the rights of native domiciles.

In his first rally since quitting the Congress, Azad on Sunday spelled out the agenda of his party, which is yet to be named, focusing on the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, protection of land and job rights of its residents, and the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits.

Addressing the well-attended rally at Sainik Colony on the outskirts of Jammu, the veteran leader said he would announce the name of his new party after consulting people and leaders of Jammu and Kashmir.

He was accorded a warm welcome by his supporters who turned up in large numbers at the Jammu airport and took him in a procession to the rally venue.

Several prominent leaders, including former deputy chief minister Tara Chand, former ministers and legislators who resigned from the Congress in his support, former PDP legislator Syed Bashir and former MLA Shoaib Nabi Lone from the Apni Party shared the dias with Azad.

The new party will focus on the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, protection of land and jobs for its residents and the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, he said.

“We have not yet decided the name of the new party and its flag…I am not going to issue any diktat sitting in Delhi. The people and leaders of both Kashmir and Jammu will be taken on board to finalise the name and the flag,” Azad said, seeking support of all sections of society for the party.

He said the name of the new party will be easy to utter.

“It will be in neither Maulana’s Urdu nor Pandit’s Sanskrit…. It will be such a name which can be easy for everyone (to utter),” he said and referred to first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who at the time of Independence had said the language of independent India would be Hindustani.

However, he said, the agenda of his party has been decided and asked people to support him in achieving the target to take Jammu and Kashmir to new heights of development and prosperity.

“Restoration of full statehood, right to land and employment to native domiciles, creating employment and return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits are top on the agenda,” Azad said amid thunderous applause from the crowd.

He said full statehood means that there is a Governor and not the Lt Governor and the Assembly should be powerful enough to enact laws.

“Outsiders should not buy land, either in Jammu or Kashmir, and jobs should not be given to them… How many jobs are available in Jammu and Kashmir? It is a trickle of water in a sea and if the jobs are advertised at the national level, we will lose that trickle of water as well,” he said.

He lauded the last Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, for his vision of introducing land and job safeguards in 1925-30 and said, “Indian Constitution and J&K Constitution safeguarded this law for 72 years. So this was not unconstitutional.”

“From presidents to prime ministers, both from Congress and other parties, accepted this constitutional safeguard which was adopted by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and therefore who are we to say that it is wrong,” he said.

In August 2019, the central government abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, which accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated the state into Union territories.

Azad said the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir Valley will also be a priority of the new party.

“Under my chief ministership, I requested the then prime minister Manmohan Singh and provided residential quarters to 20,000 Kashmiri Pandits at Jagti township in Jammu besides several other places.”

The process continued under the chief ministership of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed but “my heart pains when we see that 6,000 jobs under the prime minister’s special package sanctioned during my tenure are yet to be completed. I have myself advertised 3,000 such posts,” Azad said.

Referring to the recent targeted killings in the Valley, he said, “Such killings should stop forthwith and anyone willing to return should be provided security and accommodation. We do not want anyone to be forced to return to the valley.”

He said his party would work to ensure honour, dignity, respect and integrity of the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and start confidence-building together.

Expressing concerns over growing unemployment, he said, “I have a plan for the creation of job opportunities. We have a treasure trove of mountains which could be tapped to generate employment by attracting tourists.

Azad, 73, ended his five-decade-long association with the Congress on August 26, terming the party “comprehensively destroyed”. He also lashed out at Rahul Gandhi for “demolishing” the party’s entire consultative mechanism.

Without naming Apni Party, Azad said he had never ever mentioned the name of a Kashmir based regional party but was surprised how his announcement of floating new party has frustrated that party head.

It may be recalled here that Apni Party chief, Syed Altaf Bukhari on Friday said Azad, the former Rajya Sabha MP, might have defended Article 370 in Parliament and “even tore his shirt but let me tell the truth that Azad sahab voted for the abrogation of Article 370”.

Without mentioning Bukhari, Azad said: “My speech in Parliament (on abrogation of Article 370) is on record. I was in Parliament otherwise I too would have been jailed like other chief ministers but still I made two attempts to visit Srinagar and Jammu.

“I mobilised opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi who accepted my request but again we were not allowed. I did not keep mum, I knocked on the door of the Supreme Court which allowed me to visit Jammu, Anantnag, Srinagar and Baramulla…I reported everything to the apex court,” Azad said.

He said the majority of the Congress leaders have left the party voluntarily in his support.

“All the leaders who are present (on the dias) have not asked me before sending their resignations (to the party leadership). They submitted their resignation and then informed me about it,” Azad said, adding “95 percent former Congress ministers, 95 percent legislators, 99 percent district and block development council members from every nook and corner” are present here.

“If anyone says I have done nothing, he should tell the people what he had done, other than trying to mislead the public.”

He said he is in Jammu and Kashmir for the next fortnight and will spend four days in Jammu to meet various delegations from Monday before moving to Doda, Inderwal and Kishtwar in the Chenab valley and then to Kashmir.

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