Setting out his political agenda in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Sunday pleaded for the restoration of the state, but added that he would not mislead people with false promises on the matter.
Speaking at his first rally in the Union Territory after his exit from Congress, Azad denounced critics who accuse him of remaining silent on the issue of statehood – the Center revoked the special status of the state under Section 370 of the Constitution and divided it into two Union Territories on August 5, 2019.
“Today some leaders are asking why am I not talking about Article 370. Ghulam Nabi Azad will never mislead people for voting reasons. We have already lost a lakh people and have fifty thousand widows and four to five lakh orphans here. Thousands of people have lost their homes. Leaders should not give such slogans [on issues] which are not in our hands,” he said at the rally in Dak Bungalow neighborhood in Baramulla.
Flanked by half a dozen former MPs and Congress ministers, Azad added that the name of his political party would be announced in 10 days.
Azad resigned from Congress on August 26, accusing top leader Rahul Gandhi of causing a decline in party decision-making. At least a dozen lawmakers and 1,500 leaders left Congress to follow Azad.
The veteran politician, who also served as chief minister of the former J&K state, said on Sunday his agenda was to fight to restore the state as well as the business and land rights of the people. “Now even contractors and laborers come from outside to work at J&K. Where will the locals go,” he said.
Restoring statehood for J&K requires a two-thirds majority in parliament, Azad said and added, “This means the party must have more than 350 seats in Lok Sabha. In the past 10 years, Congress’ tally hasn’t crossed the 50 mark. So how can I mislead people into saying “I’ll reinstate Section 370”? Where am I going to get these deputies from? »
He then told Congress that the party had 73 seats in the Rajya Sabha when he was elected, but has been steadily losing ground thereafter. “The party lost state after state elections and membership fell to 30-32 seats. Next year Congress count will be 20. And for restoration of Article 370 I need 175 votes in Rajya Sabha. Where will I get these numbers from? Leaders who seek the reinstatement of Section 370 should consider whether they will be able to win their own seats,” he said.
He said people making statements about the issue were trying to mislead people. “It’s a ploy to create another ground of unrest, death and destruction,” Azad said.
“Whether I lose or win, my policy will be based on the truth. People gave a lot of blood. Now, if people support me, I will give my blood for them,” he added.
Apni party chairman Altaf Bukhari was among the leaders who criticized Azad for not doing enough to protect J&K’s statehood and special status in the Rajya Sabha.
Although Ghulam did not name Bukhari or any other leader at his Sunday gathering, he said those unaware of the workings of the Upper House should refrain from commenting.
Speaking of the time just after August 5, 2019, Azad said he made several attempts to visit J&K but to no avail. “I was not allowed. I came to Srinagar twice, once with a parliamentary delegation, but we were turned away from the airport. Finally, I moved to the Supreme Court and only by court order I was allowed to visit Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag and Jammu,” he said.
Recalling his stint as CM of J&K from 2005 to 2008 and as Union Health Minister from 2009 to 2014, Azad spoke of the various development projects undertaken at the time – creation of new districts, faculties of medicine, roads, bridges, tulip garden, new assembly complex, Hajj house and Yatri bhawan among others.
Speaking about the rally, former MLA Shoaib Lone said, “For us, it was a successful rally. Despite the rain, people came in large numbers to listen to Azad’s speech. It is a good start for the ‘Azad team’ in North Kashmir and the momentum will pick up once more rallies take place in different parts of the valley.
Congress spokesman Sheikh Amir called the Azad rally a “flop show”.
“Whatever Azad said today (Sunday), it was in contradiction to his speech in Parliament after the revocation of Article 370. About the development works he proudly counted, it is thanks to the congressional government that Azad had the opportunity to become chief minister of J&K, then [Union] health Minister “.
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman Altaf Thakur said Azad only endorsed what the BJP was saying about Article 370. “It’s already dead. CN [National Conference] and the PDP [Peoples Democratic Party] should give a logical answer on how they are going to restore this item now. Azad showed people the reality.