Srinagar, Sep 13: The National Conference (NC) on Thursday called an all-party meeting in Srinagar to discuss the legal challenge to Article 35A and the political and security situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
It comes a day after the state administration clarified that the panchayat and urban local body (ULB) elections will be held as per schedule, notwithstanding the boycott announced by the NC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The meeting was called by NC president Farooq Abdullah at his residence in Gupkar area of the city.
The NC president invited political leaders of various parties in the valley to discuss the legal challenge to Article 35A and political and security situation in the state, among other issues, party vice-president Omar Abdullah said.
"The NC president also wanted to listen to their views. He also told them the reasons for the party's boycott and took their views on what needs to be done in the future," he told reporters at a hurriedly called press conference.
Omar said the leaders who attended the meeting agreed that it was totally wrong on part of Additional Solicitor General (ASG) of India Tushar Mehta, who is representing Jammu and Kashmir in the Supreme Court, to accept that there is an aspect of gender discrimination in Article 35A.
The apex court is hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Article 35A, which grants special privileges and rights to the "permanent residents" of Jammu and Kashmir.
"It was totally wrong that he (Mehta) went outside the brief given to him by the state government. He was not sent to the SC to talk about his personal views or about the opinion of any political party. He was not even a representative of the Centre," Omar said.
"As he (Mehta) went outside his brief, we have lost trust in him and all the leaders have demanded that Mehta be immediately pulled out of the case and the lawyer who defended the case before him should be brought back,” he added.
The former chief minister said the hearing on Article 35A should be deferred till an elected government is in place in the state.
"The state is right now under the Centre's rule. Call it Governor's rule or whatever, but it is the government of India which runs it. Unfortunately, even as all the parties here, including the NC, have demanded that the Centre clears its stand on Article 35A, it has not (done so). So, we do not even know what sort of defence the Centre will put up on the day of the hearing of the case in the SC in January next year," he said.
"Keeping this in mind, all the leaders agreed that we tell the Centre and the SC to defer the case till (assembly) elections take place in the state and a new government is in place. It will be the responsibility of the new government to defend Article 35A in the SC," he said.
Asked whether the mainstream and separatist parties are on the same page over Article 35A, Omar said every citizen of the state is of the view that Article 35A should be protected. Omar also said the Centre had made a mistake by linking the panchayat and ULB elections with the hearing on Article 35A. His comments came in the backdrop of the Centre seeking to postpone the hearing on Article 35A till January as the multi-phased elections will go on till December.
"It is their own mistake. It was the Centre which linked the polls with Article 35A. The Centre opened this chapter. You ask us why we contested the (LAHDC) Kargil elections. If the Centre would have linked the Kargil elections with this, we would not have contested those elections also," Omar said.
Speaking about the government's plans to go ahead with the elections, irrespective of the boycott announcement by the NC and the PDP, he said, it is their call.
"The last three chief ministers of the state belonged to the two parties that are not participating in these elections. The NC has a footprint in all the regions of the state. The PDP has its own importance. If you think that the elections carry any meaning without the participation of these two parties, then go ahead, we have no objection," he said.
"Neither have we asked people to boycott the polls, nor we are running a boycott campaign. We only said that we will not contest these elections. Rest, if someone wants to contest the polls or does not want to, it is up to them," he clarified.
Congress leader Taj Mohiuddin, CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami and former minister G H Mir attended the meeting. However, the PDP stayed away. Some independent legislators and the BJP also did not attend the meeting. A leader of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP said the party skipped the meeting because its agenda "was not conveyed" to them.