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Nothing new in Centre’s submissions in SC on Article 370: Political parties in J&K

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Jammu/Srinagar: The Centre’s stand in the Supreme Court on restoration of statehood and holding Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir is nothing new but just a diversionary tactic, political parties in the Valley said on Thursday.

While the National Conference (NC) described the submissions made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in the top court as a tactic to divert attention from the main issue of the challenge to the legality of the Centre’s August 5, 2019 decisions, other political parties said the remarks were fallacious, a joke and similar to the Centre’s stand over the last few years.

The Centre told the Supreme Court on Thursday that the Assembly polls can be held in Jammu and Kashmir “anytime from now”, with most of the work on the voters’ list over, and the decision on specific dates depends on the Election Commission (EC).

A five-judge Constitution bench of the apex court is currently reviewing petitions that have challenged the abrogation of Article 370.

National Conference (NC) spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said while his party will keep advocating for the restoration of democratic rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, which include the holding of Assembly polls, “we would continue to fight for our constitutional and legal rights as well”.

“We did not go to the Supreme Court asking for elections. Our basic petition is against the unilateral and unconstitutional decisions taken on August 5, 2019. What the SG has told the Supreme Court bench is a tactic to divert the attention from the main issue, which is the August 5 decisions, and we will confine ourselves to that,” Dar said in Srinagar.

He, however, said the NC has always advocated for strengthening democratic institutions and that includes holding the Assembly polls.

Dar alleged that Mehta’s submissions in the top court about updating the voters’ list in Jammu and Kashmir were also aimed at creating more “confusion”.

“The voters’ list is primarily being updated for the municipal elections, it has got nothing to do with the Assembly polls,” he said, adding that the Assembly election has been due in the Union Territory for more than four-and-a-half years, so they have to be held.

NC’s provincial Secretary Sheikh Bashir Ahmed pointed out that the Centre’s stance remains unchanged and said there is nothing novel in its statement made before the apex court.

“The Supreme Court judges asked the Centre when the Assembly polls will be held. The Centre said it is ready to hold the polls, but did not give any date. There is nothing new that the government has said,” he said.

Suhail Bukhari, the chief spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said neither the restoration of statehood nor the conduct of the Assembly polls is an essential priority for the party.

“We want to witness how the Supreme Court decides on the constitutional validity of the abrogation of Article 370, which we believe was unconstitutional and illegal. We are very satisfied with the cogent manner in which the case of the people of Jammu and Kashmir has been pleaded by the legal luminaries of the country.

“We hope that justice will prevail for the people of Jammu and Kashmir as well as for the democratic ethos of the country,” he said.

Bukhari said the EC has already stated that all the preparations have been made for holding the Assembly polls.

“It even went to the extent of saying that there is a vacuum that must be filled and it would only wait for the security clearance. The BJP, on the other hand, says it is the prerogative of the EC.

“Now that the government has told the Supreme Court that it is ready for elections anytime, I think it has put the EC on a very tight spot,” he said.

Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief spokesperson Ravinder Sharma expressed gratitude to the Supreme Court for seeking a reply from the Centre on holding Assembly polls and restoration of statehood in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The government has said it is ready to hold the election and the EC has to take a decision. It has been saying this for years. The people of Jammu and Kashmir have no faith in the BJP-led Centre, which does not give an appropriate and clear-cut answer to them,” Sharma said in Jammu.

Senior Congress leader G N Monga said the solicitor general’s statement cannot be trusted.

“He has not said anything definite. Our party’s stand is that statehood should be restored immediately as they (Centre) have promised it and that should be followed by the election,” he said.

Monga said the party never had much hope, “but now, we have lost all hope”.

Senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader M Y Tarigami said the Centre has said on numerous occasions that statehood will be restored to Jammu and Kashmir at an appropriate time.

“When will that appropriate time come, perhaps we will get to know in 2024. If there is some change (after the Lok Sabha polls), they will then perhaps consider it,” he said.

“Why should we trust them? They have not said when the Assembly polls will take place or when statehood will be restored. This is a joke. Mehta has said there are thousands of panchayat members. That is the case in Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh or Himachal Pradesh too. So why are Assembly polls conducted there? Why are you joking with us?” the Left leader told reporters in Kulgam.

Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference (JKPC) chairman Sajad Gani Lone said the submissions made by Mehta in the apex court were not very different from the statements that came from the Centre on the issue over the last four years.

“I am disappointed, not because of Jammu and Kashmir, but partly because of the judiciary. This is the highest pedestal of the judiciary and if it asks a question and the answer is the same and as ambiguous and evasive as it was four years ago, then I think it is a matter of concern,” Lone told reporters.

He said no timeline was given by the BJP-led Centre regarding restoration of statehood or holding the Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir and even the arguments presented were political and not legal.

“These are very specious, fallacious arguments and I hope and pray that legality prevails, justice prevails and as has been apparently observed in the highest court, constitutional challenges are decided on the basis of what is written in the Constitution and not on the basis of these other arguments that are political in nature,” Lone said.

Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari said there was nothing new in the submissions made by Mehta in the top court.

“This is like the same vague statements given by the Centre after August 2019. I think either the Supreme Court is not being taken seriously or the government is not serious in doing anything here,” Bukhari said.

He said the Centre has been saying since 2019 that elections will take place in Jammu and Kashmir.

“They are saying it every day and we too are continuing with our political activities, but this is not something new. We had expected a firm date from the Supreme Court for restoration of statehood, but there is no firmness in their (Centre’s) statements.

“Whether they are telling the truth or lying, the court will decide, but there is no seriousness in the statement,” he said.

The Apni Party president said from the Centre’s submissions, “we see that elections will not take place even as the situation is normal”.

The Jammu and Kashmir unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, voiced support to the Centre’s statement in the top court.

“We have full faith in the Supreme Court. As far as the issue raised by the court about the Assembly polls is concerned, the Centre, the prime minister and the home minister have said several times in the past that the government and the BJP are ready for the election whenever the EC takes a decision on it,” Jammu and Kashmir BJP chief Ravinder Raina said in Jammu.

He lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development efforts in the region and expressed confidence that the BJP will secure a majority in the election.

The Centre abrogated the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5, 2019 and bifurcated the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into Union territories.

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