Former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is set to launch his own political outfit, on Sunday said Article 370 of the constitution, which granted greater autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir and was revoked two years ago by the BJP government at the centre, can’t be restored.
In his first public meeting in North Kashmir’s Baramulla, Azad targeted regional parties for “misleading people” by promising them to push for the restoration of Article 370.
“Ghulam Nabi Azad will not mislead anyone. For votes, I will not mislead and exploit you. Please don’t rake up issues which can’t be achieved. 370 can’t restored. It needs two-thirds majority in parliament,” he said in a fiery speech.
He said the Congress is “going down” with every election and there is no party in India which can get majority in Parliament and restore Article 370.
In August 2019, the State of J&K lost its special status following the abrogation of Article 370 and was downgraded to a Union Territory — the State’s bifurcation led to the creation of a separate UT of Ladakh.
Azad’s stance is at odds with most regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir, including the Congress, which have signed a pact to campaign for the restoration of Article 370 which granted special powers to the state.
“It’s another deception to provoke people for agitation and get them killed. So long Azad is alive, I will fight against falsehood. You will have to kill me if you want silence this idea,” said Azad.
The veteran politician, who resigned from the Congress last month, promised people that he will rather fight for what’s achievable, which he says is restoration of statehood, and protection of jobs and land for the residents of Jammu and Kashmir.
Azad also said during the public meeting that he would announce a new political party within 10 days. Amid a show of strength in Baramulla, his first rally since his departure from the Congress, Azad also addressed a presser. “We will announce a new party in 10 days,” he was quoted as saying by the news agency ANI.
Today's Public meeting at Baramulla,SRINAGAR, J&K. pic.twitter.com/eBtJkUwBGs
— Ghulam Nabi Azad (@ghulamnazad) September 11, 2022
After the Baramulla rally, Azad will be holding separate rallies in Kupwara and south Kashmir. Azad has been sharing photographs and videos on his social media handles, which capture his efforts to mobilise support. On Sunday, too, he shared photos and vidoes of the Baramulla public meeting.
On Saturday, Azad told ANI that he had “met around 400 people from delegations of 30-35 assembly constituencies in Jammu.” He asserted: “They gave their support… and they will be a part of whatever party I make.” The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister has said that his supporters have multiplied after leaving the Congress.
The 73-year-old leader had an acrimonious exit from the grand old party last month, when he announced the end of his five-decade association after raising issues about its internal functioning multiple times. In his resignation letter to Sonia Gandhi, Azad had targeted party leadership, particularly Rahul Gandhi, over the way the party has been functioning for nearly nine years.
The former Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha has been holding public meetings in Jammu to fortify his electoral base ahead of the upcoming elections.
J&K has been without an elected government since June 2018, when the BJP withdrew support to Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party-led coalition government, citing “deteriorating security situation” in the erstwhile state. This is the third longest spell of bureaucratic rule in any state or Union Territory with a legislature in independent India’s history.
Also read: Azad swears by ‘Ganga-Jamuni’ culture; says people will decide name, flag of his party
On August 8, the Election Commission of India rescheduled the date for publication of electoral rolls in J&K to November 25. As per earlier schedule, the exercise was expected to be completed by October 31, indicating that there was a possibility of holding elections in November-December in the Union Territory. Due to the uncertainty over the exact timing of assembly polls, the political parties have shown reluctance in going into the full election mode and their activities, at present, remain confined to holding party workers’ meetings.
In June this year, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that there was a “strong possibility” of starting the electoral process by “the end of this year”. This was the Centre’s first indication of a timeline for assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir. After the conclusion of the delimitation exercise of assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, there was strong speculation that assembly polls in the Union Territory will be conducted in November, probably along with the other state polls, including Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
However, since the poll panel has fixed November 25 as the deadline for publication of the final electoral rolls, officials say that it gives an indication that the polls are unlikely to be held this year. Along with the ongoing pre-revision activities of electoral rolls, a recent announcement by the state election office that non-locals, including employees, students, labourers, or anyone from outside who is living ordinarily in Jammu and Kashmir will be able to register their names in the voting list, created a buzz across the Union Territory.
Earlier, on August 26, the day he left the Congress, Azad had declared that he would launch a new party soon and that its first unit would be set up in Jammu and Kashmir. “I am in no hurry as of now to launch a national party but keeping in mind that elections are likely to be held in Jammu and Kashmir, I have decided to launch a unit there soon,” he told PTI.
Azad, who had also served as Union Minister under various Prime Ministers and the Chief Minister of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, had refused to divulge any further details on the formation of his new party then. “I will be setting up my outfit in Jammu and Kashmir soon. I will not be joining the BJP,” he had said.
Reacting to Azad’s resignation last month, the Congress, which has been dealing with the fallout of a series of high-profile exits, including of other veterans like Kapil Sibal and Ashwani Kumar, linked his resignation to the end of his Rajya Sabha tenure, alleging that Azad’s DNA had been “Modi-fied.”