With the Supreme Court unanimously upholding the Centre's decision to abrogate provisions of Article 370, the Congress Monday said the debate over the issue has ended but demanded immediate restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and holding of assembly elections there.
The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld the Centre's decision to abrogate provisions of Article 370 bestowing special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and directed restoration of statehood "at the earliest" as well as holding elections to the assembly by September 30 next year.
Addressing a press conference at the Congress headquarters along with party colleague Abhishek Singhvi, P Chidambaram said the judgement has decided many issues but has left open some that are also vitally important.
"It has also held as ultra vires how Article 367 was invoked to amend part of Article 370. Hence the judgement needs careful study. Prima facie, we respectfully disagree with the judgement on how Article 370 was abrogated," Chidambaram said.
"We reiterate the Congress Working Committee resolution dated August 6, 2019, that Article 370 deserved to be honoured until it was amended strictly in accordance with the Constitution," he said.
The Congress is also disappointed that the Supreme Court did not decide on the question of dismembering the state and reducing its status to two Union Territories, he said.
"That question has been reserved for adjudication in a suitable case in the future. The Congress has always demanded the restoration of full statehood for what has become the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
"We welcome the Supreme Court's verdict. Full statehood must be restored immediately," Chidambaram asserted.
He added that the aspirations of the people of Ladakh must also be fulfilled.
"We welcome the Supreme Court's direction to hold assembly elections. However, we believe the elections should be held immediately and there is no reason to wait until September 30, 2024," Chidambaram said.
"When elections are held, the people of Jammu and Kashmir will have an opportunity to express their views on the crucial questions that were debated in the Supreme Court -- an opportunity that has been denied to them so far," he said.
Since its accession, Jammu and Kashmir has been an integral part of India, the former home minister asserted.
"The people of Jammu and Kashmir are Indian citizens. We reiterate our resolve to work for the security, peace, development and progress of Jammu and Kashmir," Chidambaram said.
To a question that the provision itself was temporary, Chidambaram said, "I don't think there was any debate that the provision was temporary. The debate at that time was whether the temporary provision can be removed except in accordance with the Constitution." To another question, he said the Supreme Court has held that abrogation of Article 370 using the power under Article 367 is valid.
"It is the judgement of the Supreme Court and all of us are bound by it. But prime facie we are saying that we respectfully disagree with the procedure followed. Even in the CWC resolution we said Article 370 must be honoured until it is repealed or amended in accordance with the Constitution." At the moment, the verdict of the Supreme Court is that Article 370 was amended in accordance with the law, Chidambaram added.
About the debate over the two Jammu and Kashmir-related bills in Lok Sabha during which Home Minister Amit Shah stated that there has been a significant improvement as far as the security situation is concerned, he said data shows terrorist incidents, killing of security forces and other incidents continue unabated.
"That is the data. I don't have the data with me, but it can be accessed. Whether the economic situation of Jammu and Kashmir has improved is for the people of Jammu & Kashmir to say. Has unemployment decreased? Has per capita income increased? They will have an opportunity to deliver their verdict when elections are held," he said.
"That's why we urge that elections should be held early. The opportunity that has been denied to the people of Jammu and Kashmir so far to express themselves must be made available to them as early as possible. Once the people of Jammu & Kashmir express their views that will bring an end to the debate," he said.
On whether the debate over Article 370 abrogation has ended, Singhvi said, "Today, this debate has ended. You are forgetting one thing. The Congress is not a party in any way in these petitions that it will file any review petition... So, this decision is final and there has never been any such agenda or announcement of ours that we will reconsider it." "Democracy, and not autocracy, is the demand of every citizen of Jammu and Kashmir. Why is the BJP afraid of an elected government," he posed.
The Jammu and Kashmir Congress welcomed the Supreme Court orders J-K Congress chief Vikar Rasool Wani said, "We are proud that it was the Congress leadership led by former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru who introduced Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir." He said the people of Jammu and Kashmir were looking forward to special provisions for protection of their rights over land and jobs and the Congress is promise-bound to ensure these.
The Congress' Ladakh unit said Union Territory status to the region without legislation and constitutional safeguards to protect land and jobs for the locals is incomplete.
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