National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said on Monday that he will not contest Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir as long as the region remains a Union Territory. “To this day, I fail to understand the need for this move [to make the state a Union Territory], except to punish and humiliate the people of the state,” Abdullah said in an article in The Indian Express.

The erstwhile state was split into the two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, on August 5 last year, when the Centre abolished the special status of the region under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Assembly elections, last held in the Union Territory in 2014, are due this year. The region has been under President’s Rule since December 2018.

“If the reason for carving out a separate Union Territory for Ladakh was the public demand among the Buddhist population of the area, then the demand for a separate state for the people of Jammu is a much older demand,” Abdullah said. He said that if the move was made on religious grounds, it ignored that the majority population of Kargil and Leh in Ladakh is Muslim.

Abdullah pointed out that after the reelection of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2019, there had been rumours that Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status would be revoked. “The people were treated to categorical denials by the occupant of the highest office in the state, the Governor, that J&K’s special status faced no threat,” the politician said.

Abdullah said that while abrogation of special status was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto for decades, and hence not surprising, the Centre had “heaped humiliation” on Jammu and Kashmir by downgrading it and splitting it into two Union Territories. “Over the last seven decades, Union Territories have been upgraded to states, but this was the first time a state was downgraded to a Union Territory,” he said.

‘Violence continues to increase in Jammu and Kashmir’

The National Conference leader said the reasons given to justify the end of special status for Jammu and Kashmir do not stand the test of scrutiny. Abdullah asked why the Centre had admitted in the Supreme Court nearly a year after the abrogation of special status, that violence in the Union Territory had been increasing, given that it had earlier claimed that Article 370 encouraged militancy in the Valley.

Abdullah debunked the claim that Article 370 had kept Jammu and Kashmir in poverty, pointing out that the poverty rate in the erstwhile state was much lower than in the rest of India. “Article 370 was alleged to have denied J&K investment,” he wrote. “Prior to the outbreak of militancy in the state, J&K was amongst the most progressive states with a growing industrial base and impressive investment in manufacturing.” He said that it was the security situation in the Union Territory that has kept it from attracting more investment.

Abdullah said that Jammu and Kashmir also compares favourably with many other Indian states, including Gujarat, on the human development index. “Finally, it was suggested that Article 370 was always meant to be a temporary provision,” he said. “What they forget to add to this sentence is that it was temporary because of the little matter of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1947 of 1948.”

‘No constitutional, legal, economic or security justification’

The National Conference leader, who was in detention from last August to March this year, said that apart from electoral promises, there was no “constitutional, legal, economic or security justification for what was done to J&K on August 5, 2019”. He pointed out that in 2018, the Supreme Court had itself had said that Article 370 had become a permanent entity due to the number of years it had existed, making the abrogation impossible.

“The special constitutional status enjoyed by J&K was not a favour done to the state,” Abdullah said. “It formed the basis of the state’s accession to India...For Muslim-majority J&K to accede and then fight alongside Indian forces to push back Pakistani invaders in 1947 was without parallel.”

Abdullah said the National Conference will continue to oppose the revocation of special status of the Union Territory, including in the Supreme Court. He alleged that the Centre has placed a number of Kashmiri political leaders under illegal detention for nearly a year.

“As for me, I am very clear that while J&K remains a Union Territory I will not be contesting any Assembly elections,” the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir said. “Having been a member of the most empowered Assembly in the land and that, too, as the leader of that Assembly for six years, I simply cannot and will not be a member of a House that has been disempowered the way ours has.”