NEW DELHI — Senior Congress Leader and last prince of Jammu and Kashmir Karan Singh Aug. 8 demanded the release of political leaders arrested in the state and a fresh political and civil society dialogue in view of the "drastically" changed situation.
Singh also said in a statement that efforts should be undertaken so that Jammu and Kashmir attains "full statehood" as soon as possible so that its people can at last enjoy the political rights available in the rest of the country.
But he welcomed the Center's decision to reorganize the region and create Ladakh as a Union Territory and said the reorganization of the region had several positives too.
"With my lifelong involvement with Jammu and Kashmir, a state founded by my ancestors and for which my father Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession in 1947, my sole concern is to further the welfare of all sections and regions of the state," Singh said in a statement.
In an obvious reference to the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, which he did not name, Singh criticized the Center's move to sideline "two regional parties" before deciding to axe Article 370 of the Constitution giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
"It is unfair to dismiss the two main regional parties as being anti-national," he said.
The workers of these two parties, he said, had over the years made heavy sacrifices for the cause of India. Besides, both the parties had been from time to time allies of national parties and governments at the Center and in the state.
"I would, therefore, urge that leaders of legitimate political parties in Kashmir should be released as soon as possible and a broad based political dialogue initiated with them and with civil society in view of the drastically changed situation.”
"At all costs communal harmony should be maintained and violence eschewed,” he said.
On the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, Jammu and Kashmir with an Assembly and Ladakh without one, Singh said the "unusually fast" decision in Parliament "caught all of us completely by surprise, they will obviously have far reaching implications at many levels.”
He said the "drastic" measure appeared to enjoy the overwhelming support of Parliament as well as around the country, including in Jammu and Ladakh, and that he had been pondering deeply over the situation.
"Personally I do not agree with a blanket condemnation of these developments. There are several positive points," Singh said.
"Ladakh's emergence as a Union Territory is to be welcomed."
In fact, "I had suggested this as far back as 1965 when I was still Sadar-i-Riyasat of Jammu and Kashmir when I had publicly proposed reorganization of the state", he said.
He said the gender discrimination in Article 35A needed to be addressed as also the long-awaited enfranchisement of lakhs of west Pakistan refugees and reservation for Scheduled Tribes which he added would be welcomed.
He said fresh delimitation in the region would ensure a "fair division of political power" between the Jammu and Kashmir regions.
He said a broad spectrum of people in Kashmir may be feeling "mortified.”
"I feel that it is important for the political dialogue,” said Singh.
After the veteran Congress leader said there were "several positives" in the government decision on Jammu and Kashmir, his son Vikramaditya Singh fully backed the integration of J&K into the Indian Union.
In a statement, Vikramaditya Singh, a former Member of the Legislative Council of Jammu and Kashmir, termed the government step to revoke Article 370 and divide the state into two union territories as "a step I fully support.”
He said with this step, women and the minority communities of the state would enjoy equal status under the Indian Constitution, and added that he looked forward to a new J&K with greater business and industrial development and employment opportunities.
"I also endorse the views expressed by my father Dr Karan Singh in his statement made earlier today," he said.