Congress Minister Demands Azadi For Kashmir, Kicks Up A Storm6 December 2010
Srinagar: Top Congress leader and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) minister for health and horticulture Sham Lal Sharma has stirred up a hornet’s nest by demanding freedom for Kashmir. Sharma, who represents the Akhnoor assembly segment, also favoured statehood for Jammu and a Union territory status for Ladakh. “Kashmir should be granted freedom, Jammu should be made a separate state and Ladakh a Union territory. This is the only solution and can lead to progress and development of the state,” he said at a public rally at Kathua in Jammu on Sunday. Sharma made the controversial statement in the presence of Pradesh Congress Committee president Saifuddin Soz, embarrassing the party leadership which has stood for the unity and integrity of J&K. BJP took strong exception. “Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Sharma’s azadi remark is unacceptable. We stand for the unity of Jammu and Kashmir, but want an end to Jammu’s discrimination,” the party’s state president SS Manhas said, adding, “Anyone who advocates disintegration of the country should be considered an anti-national.” Manhas also took a dig at chief minister Omar Abdullah for saying in the legislative assembly that “J&K has not merged but only acceded to the Union of India”. “This government has broken all records. Time has come for this government to go,” he said. Moderate Hurriyat leader Syed Saleem Geelani said Jammu and Kashmir was a dispute. “However, if someone favours azadi, we welcome it. But our stand is that the whole of J&K is a dispute pending solution,” he said. Sharma’s statement gave Ladakhis something to cheer about. “We welcome his statement favouring a Union territory status to Ladakh. We have been fighting for the status since independence,” Thupstan Chhewang, former president of Ladakh Union Territory Front, said.