Jammu: After severing his five-decade association with Congress, Ghulam Nabi Azad on Sunday made clear his intentions to begin a new political journey from his home country with a focus on restoring statehood in Jammu- and Kashmir while protecting indigenous domiciliary rights.
In his first rally since leaving Congress, Azad on Sunday fleshed out the agenda of his yet-to-be-named party, focusing on restoring the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the protection of land and employment rights of its residents, and the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits.
Addressing the well-attended rally in Sainik Colony on the outskirts of Jammu, the veteran leader said he would announce the name of his new party after consulting with residents and leaders of Jammu and Kashmir.
He was warmly welcomed by his supporters who showed up in large numbers at Jammu airport and escorted him to the rally venue.
Several prominent leaders including former deputy chief minister Tara Chand, former cabinet ministers and lawmakers who resigned from Congress in his support, former PDP lawmaker Syed Bashir and former Apni party MP Shoaib Nabi Lone shared the dias with Azad.
The new party will focus on restoring Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, protecting land and jobs for its residents and bringing back and rehabilitating Kashmiri pundits, he said.
“We have not yet decided on the name of the new party and its flag… I am not going to issue any diktat sitting in Delhi. People and leaders of Kashmir and Jammu will be invited to finalize the name and flag,” Azad said, seeking support from all sections of society for the party.
He said the name of the new party will be easy to pronounce.
“It will not be in Maulana’s Urdu or Pandit’s Sanskrit…. It will be such a name which can be easy for everyone (to pronounce),” he said and referred to the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who at the time of independence said that the language of independent India would be the Hindustani.
However, he said his party’s agenda was decided and asked people to support him in achieving the goal of taking Jammu and Kashmir to new heights of development and prosperity.
“Restoration of a full state, right to land and employment in indigenous homes, job creation, return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits are high on the agenda “Azad said to thunderous applause from the crowd.
He said a full state means there is a governor and not the lieutenant governor and the assembly should be powerful enough to enact laws.
“Foreigners should not buy land, whether in Jammu or Kashmir, and jobs should not be given to them… How many jobs are available in Jammu and Kashmir? It’s a trickle in a sea and if the jobs are advertised nationally, we will lose that trickle as well,” he said.
He praised the last Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, for his vision to introduce land and labor guarantees in 1925-1930 and said, “The Indian Constitution and the J&K Constitution have protected this law for 72 years. So it was not unconstitutional.
“Presidents to prime ministers, from Congress and other parties, have accepted this constitutional guarantee which has been passed by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and so who are we to say it is wrong,” he said. declared.
In August 2019, the central government repealed Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and divided the state into union territories.
Azad said the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir Valley will also be a priority of the new party.
“Under my Chief Ministry, I requested the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and provided accommodation for 20,000 Kashmiri Pandits in Jagti Township in Jammu along with several other places. “
The process continued under the Chief Ministry of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, but “my heart aches when we see that 6,000 jobs under the prime minister’s special program sanctioned during my tenure are yet to be completed. I myself announced 3,000 such posts,” Azad said.
Referring to recent targeted killings in the valley, he said: “These killings must stop immediately and anyone wishing to return must be provided with security and accommodation. We don’t want anyone to have to go back to the valley.
He said his party will work to ensure the honor, dignity, respect and integrity of the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and start building trust together.
Expressing concern over rising unemployment, he said, “I have a plan for creating employment opportunities. We have a treasure trove of mountains that could be exploited to create jobs by attracting tourists.
Azad, 73, ended his five-decade association with Congress on August 26, calling the party “completely destroyed”. He also lambasted Rahul Gandhi for “demolishing” the entire consultative machinery of the party.
Without naming Apni Party, Azad said he never mentioned the name of a Kashmir-based regional party but was surprised how his announcement of a new floating party frustrated that party leader.
It may be recalled here that Apni party leader Syed Altaf Bukhari said on Friday that Azad, the former Rajya Sabha MP, might have defended Article 370 in Parliament and “even tore his shirt, but let me to tell the truth that Azad sahab voted for the repeal of article 370”.
Without mentioning Bukhari, Azad said, “My speech in Parliament (on the repeal of Article 370) is recorded. I was in Parliament otherwise I too would have been imprisoned like other Chief Ministers but I still made two attempts to visit Srinagar and Jammu.
“I mobilized opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi who accepted my request but again we were not allowed. I didn’t babysit 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 Supreme Court,” Azad said.
He said the majority of Congress leaders voluntarily left the party to support him.
“All the leaders who are present (on the dias) did not ask me before sending in their resignation (to the party leadership). They tendered their resignation and then informed me,” Azad said, adding that “95% former congress ministers, 95% legislators, 99% district and bloc development council members of all nooks and crannies” are present here.
“If someone says I didn’t do anything, they should tell people what they did, 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 meeting with various delegations starting Monday before traveling to Doda, Inderwal and Kishtwar in Chenab Valley then to Kashmir.