Embarrassing his own government both at the Centre and the state a senior Congress minister in the Omar Abdullah Cabinet has advocated ‘azadi’ for the Valley.
Freeing Kashmir would free a major chunk of central funds that are sent for the state’s development,which ultimately end up in the Valley,State Health Minister Sham Lal Sharma said yesterday at a public rally in Bani,nearly 200 kilometres from Jammu.
Sharma urged the Centre to divide the three regions of the state give ‘azadi’ to Kashmir,make Jammu a separate state and give the Union Territory status to Ladakh.
Sharma said: If Kashmiris want ‘azadi’,give it to them.
Other party leaders,including state president and MP Saifuddin Soz,could be seen squirming on the dais.
Sharma went on: While there are voices for ‘azadi’ in Kashmir,people in Jammu and Ladakh complain of discrimination in all spheres.
He added this this was the only solution if the Centre wanted to really develop the state.
Sharma said: Kashmiris take away a major share of funds allocated by the Centre and also show eyes at it. On the other hand,those who get discriminated against remain silent. Such a situation cannot be tolerated for long,he pointed out.
He said it was time to end such regional discrimination within the state. He said those advocating unity and integrity of all the three regions in the state should be shunned.
Turning to Soz who,besides being the partys state president,is also a Rajya Sabha member and a former Union minister,Sharma said: I request that my proposal be implemented on ground.
The ministers remarks evoked sharp criticism from Opposition BJP and also colleagues in the Cabinet and party as well. While BJP leaders Nirmal Singh and Ashok Khajuria described the ministers public statement as treason and demanded his immediate arrest and dismissal from the state Cabinet,state Congress vice president Abdul Gani Vakil said the comments were unfortnuate. He as a Cabinet minister should not have talked of ‘azadi’ to Kashmir and division of the state,he added.
A senior Congress minister from Jammu in the Omar Abdullah Cabinet who also happens to be in the camp of Saifuddin Soz,said that Sharmas statement was against the policy of the Congress party which is committed to not only the unity and integrity of the state,but also its equitable development.
Though State Congress president Saifuddin Soz tried to counter the minister saying that unity and integrity of the state was of paramount importance and that the Congress was committed to maintaining and strengthening it,it did not satisfy many within the party. According to them,Soz was helpless to do anything in the matter as Sharma belonged to his camp in the already faction-ridden Congress unit in the state.
In a situation where he himself had been keeping a distance from those owing allegiance to Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad,Soz was not in a position to annoy people in his own camp,they pointed out.
In damage-control mode,Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi described Sharma’s remarks as his “personal view” and said the party’s stand “is very clear autonomy within the framework of the Indian Constitution”.
“We are all answerable to AICC President Sonia Gandhi and what we say here will be considered as the Congress’ word and we must speak along the party line”,Soz said.
Seeking to downplay Sharma’s view,Singhvi told reporters in Delhi: “I can only describe it as a personal opinion. He was at a rally in his own home state and certainly this is his personal view.”
“Some of the words which I have heard,I can either describe it as a metaphorical speak which should not be taken literally,” he said adding,”In any case,we do not accept any such allegations.”
National Executive Member and former Pradesh President Nirmal Singh told reporters: “Sharma has taken oath under the Constitution and his statement tantamounts to treason and therefore an FIR should be registered against him and he should be arrested forthwith.”
Senior BJP leader of the state Chaman Lal Gupta said Congress should come out openly on what its minister in the coalition government has said.
Sharma alleges Jammu and Ladakh regions have been discriminated by “Kashmir-centric” leadership and “this has strengthened our view point”.
Gupta,who is BJP legislature party leader,said: “We want Congress to understand the hard fact that the government has been discriminating Jammu and Ladakh for decades and this has been rightly realised by Sharma who is a minister in the coalition government headed by the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) chief Bhim Singh accused the Congress of playing the “most mischievous game to disintegrate Kashmir from the rest of the country.”
This is clear by the statement made by the Congress Minister in presence of JKPCC President that Kashmir should be given a ‘azadi’,” he said.