Not surprised at EC’s decision not to hold Assembly, LS polls together in J&K: Omar Abdullah


New Delhi: National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abdullah on Saturday said he was a bit “disappointed but not surprised” at the Election Commission’s (EC) decision not to hold the much-awaited Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir with the upcoming Lok Sabha election.

The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister also said the Congress should not be blamed for everything that has gone wrong in the INDIA opposition bloc and suggested avoiding personal attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi during campaigning.

Abdullah said this while taking part in a debate on the INDIA bloc — “India’s opposition: The search for a narrative and strategy” — at the “India Today” conclave.

Senior Congress leader Sachin Pilot and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Atishi also spoke during the debate.

“I am a bit disappointed, but not surprised because all the air that has been created for one nation, one election has failed the test. The EC, the Jammu and Kashmir administration and to that extent, the government of India is unable to put its money where its mouth is,” Abdullah said when asked about the poll panel deciding not to hold the Assembly election with the Lok Sabha polls in the Union Territory.

The NC leader said this was the ideal time to roll out the process of “one nation, one election”.

“If you cannot have the Jammu and Kashmir polls at the same time with the rest of the country, how are you promising it for 2029? This was a test case and in this test case, they have clearly failed. We were very hopeful because we have not had Assembly polls since 2014,” he said.

Abdullah said 10 years is a long time for not holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir, especially at a time when the BJP-led Centre is telling the whole world that everything is so much better in the Union Territory now.

“If it is so much better, then the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let us have those elections and let us see how much better things are,” he said.

Abdullah also said there is no ambiguity that the NC is part of the INDIA bloc.

“Our seat-sharing talks with the Congress have more or less concluded and we have made it very clear that the three seats that are already with the INDIA bloc — the seats from Kashmir — will be contested by the NC. The other three seats in the erstwhile (state of) Jammu and Kashmir, including the one in Ladakh, will be contested by the Congress after consultations with other groups there,” he said.

Asked about the People Democratic Party’s future in the INDIA bloc, Abdullah said that is for the Congress to answer as “I am not answerable for the PDP and I am not answerable for the wider INDIA bloc. I am answerable for my relationship with the bloc and not the PDP’s relationship”.

The NC leader said he does not think that the Congress is to be blamed for everything that has gone wrong with the INDIA bloc.

“There are hiccups along the way. In the recent state elections, there was a lack of clarity on whether the INDIA bloc should fight together or not and that hurt us. At the INDIA bloc meetings before those elections, the parties from those states wanted some clarity on whether we will fight the polls together or not and the ultimate decision was we would not fight the elections together.

“Having fought elections against each other a few months ago, the seat sharing took a little bit of time. Other than (Bihar Chief Minister) Nitish Kumar leaving, the INDIA bloc, contrary to a lot of other expectations, has done reasonably well,” he said, adding that however, there are lessons to be learnt.

Abdullah welcomed the seat-sharing agreement between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and the Congress and the AAP in Delhi, and said the beauty of the alliance is that “on some issues, we agree to disagree, but that has not pulled us apart”.

“I disagree with the position the AAP took on August 5, 2019 (when Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into Union territories and its special status under Article 370 of the Constitution revoked). I believe the Congress could have done more to protect Article 370, which was the inheritance of the Congress given to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“There are issues on which we disagree but in terms of broader issues — the need to protect the Constitution, democracy, the idea of India, secular ethos, that the economy needs to do better, rural distress is a reality even though it goes unreported, there are a number of educated unemployed who are finding it difficult to get jobs — all these are real factors that need to be addressed,” he said.

Abdullah said it was a “mistake” to launch personal attacks on Modi, adding, “It boomerangs on us. It has not worked and I am telling you with my experience that it does not work.

“Because for whatever the reason, the man seems to be coated in Teflon…. Who can deny that the BJP has got richer, but you cannot make a case against the prime minister. There is no evidence (against him). A large part of India has got poorer, the BJP has got richer. Fifty per cent electoral bonds went to them. We need to strategise our campaigning,” he said.

Defending his criticism of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Abdullah asked, “How is protecting the Constitution appeasement? The Constitution asks you to treat all as equals and that you should not distinguish on the basis of caste, creed and religion. Does the CAA not distinguish on the basis of religion?”

“Forget Muslims, there is no place for Jews, the Bohra community. I do not understand how opposing the CAA is being divisive,” he said.

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