Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday called for the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood before conducting assembly elections and batted for land and job rights for its residents, saying if laws providing such benefits were valid in other areas like Himachal Pradesh, why snatch them away from the erstwhile state.
The former leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha also said his party was waiting for the assurances that Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave at an all-party meeting on June 24 this year to be fulfilled.
Azad visited the Mata Kheer Bhawani temple — the revered shrine of Kashmiri Pandits nestled among mammoth chinar trees in the Tullamulla area of central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district — and Hazratbal Shrine which houses a hair strand of Prophet Mohammad earlier in the day.
He was scheduled to visit both the shrines along with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi — who was on a two-day visit to J-K — but his flight from Delhi reached Srinagar airport late.
Speaking to reporters outside the temple complex, the former chief minister of J-K Azad also said Kashmiri Pandits who left the valley in the early 1990s in the wake of the eruption of militancy should be brought back.
“The (assembly) elections…should be conducted soon. But before the elections, statehood should be restored, which is very important. Kashmiri Pandits should be brought back. Our land and job (rights), which were taken away after Article 370 was revoked, should be secured like they were before (August 5, 2019) through a new law when the statehood is restored,” he said.
After the Kheer Bhawani visit, Azad went to the Hazratbal shrine here to pay obeisance. Later, he joined Gandhi at the inauguration of Congress Bhawan at M A Road here. Addressing the gathering, Azad said it was not Article 370 that gave the provision of the protection of land rights to J-K.
He said if other places like the northeast or Himachal Pradesh could have such laws, why cannot Jammu and Kashmir. “It (land rights protection) was not a new law. It was passed by (the then ruler of J-K) Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927. Northeast has special provisions on land rights while the Himachal Pradesh assembly has also passed a law. Why snatch it from JK?” he asked.
The senior Congress leader expressed hope that the assurances given by the prime minister at the all-party meeting will be fulfilled. “At the all-party meeting, the PM gave assurances. We hope that he will fulfill those assurances including the five points raised by Congress. They should restore statehood and then hold elections,” he said.
He urged Gandhi to raise the issue of J-K in Parliament so that a bill that restores the statehood and protects land and job rights of locals is passed in Parliament within the remaining three days of the ongoing session.
(With PTI inputs)