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Opposition pledges to restore Kashmir status in ‘Unite India March’ campaign

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi pledged on Tuesday to restore the state of Jammu and Kashmir, as his party’s long march from Congress reached the Muslim-majority region that in 2019 lost its special autonomy.

Gandhi’s campaign, the Bharat Jodo Yatra, or Unite India March, ran from the far south of the country in Tamil Nadu to the mountainous north. He entered Kashmir territory last week.

The region lost its statehood when the Indian government revoked its special autonomous status on 5 August 2019 and split it into two territories governed by the federal government, promising security and reform.

The repeal was followed by a complete communications blackout, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, arrests of hundreds of local political leaders and dissolution of their assemblies.

“Jammu and Kashmir must become a state as soon as possible and its assembly must start functioning and the democratic system in the state must be vibrant again,” Gandhi told a news conference in Jammu.

He did not make a clear statement, however, on restoring the region’s autonomy, which was granted by Article 370 of the constitution that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party government had unilaterally scrapped.

Article 370 governed for seven decades India’s complex relationship with Jammu and Kashmir – part of the greater Kashmir region and since 1947 the object of international dispute following the division of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Gandhi’s lack of clarity produced mixed reactions in Kashmir.

“Gandhi did not take a bold stand on restoring Article 370 … he is not saying that he would restore constitutional autonomy,” Altaf Hussain, an analyst and journalist from Kashmir’s main city Srinagar, told Arab News.

“Article 370 was a solemn agreement between India and the former king of Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi promised to protect internal sovereignty and this was unilaterally withdrawn. There is anger in Kashmir.”

Gandhi’s long march will end when he arrives in Srinagar next week. The 52-year-old politician, whose family has been the face of Congress for decades, has covered some 3,300 km so far, walking with hundreds of others from his party, celebrities and members of civil society.

Congress hopes the crowds Gandhi is drawing will translate into votes in next year’s general election. The party, which has spearheaded India’s anti-colonial struggle, has been on the fringes of Indian politics since the rise of Modi’s nationalist BJP in 2014.

For Prof. Siddiq Wahid, Kashmiri historian and political commentator, the very fact that Gandhi arrived in Kashmir and spoke about restoring its state was already significant.

“After 5 August 2019, this is the first time that an Indian politician has shown the courage of conviction in the face of a government that has not consulted the Congress Party or its own parliament on an act that represents a constitutional contradiction,” he said. . Arab news.

“It is a cause for hope that at least the Congress Party is showing signs of being in a climate of dialogue with the people of former Jammu and Kashmir. Under the current circumstances, this is significant progress.”

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