The National Conference (NC) on Thursday accepted BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s challenge of seeking a debate on Article 370 —granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir — even as Farooq Abdullah was declared as the party’s candidate for the coming Lok Sabha elections for the second successive term.

At a public gathering on NC founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s birth anniversary at Hazratbal, Dr. Abdullah announced that he would be yet again contest the parliamentary election from his Central Kashmir constituency. Mehboob Beg and Sharifuddin Shariq would be repeated from South and North Kashmir respectively.

Indicating that the three seats would be left vacant for the coalition partner, the Congress, the NC patron did not announce any candidates for Jammu, Udhampur and Leh. However, a seat-sharing arrangement between the two has not been hitherto worked out.

A Minister in the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, Dr Abdullah asked the party cadres to prepare themselves for the next year’s parliamentary and Assembly elections.

He, as well as NC’s acting president and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, made frontal attacks on the BJP and the PDP leaderships, alleging that both had been “misleading the masses with a communal and parochial agenda.” They asserted that Article 370 was an irrevocable and permanent feature of the Indian Constitution.

In a terse reaction to Mr Modi's suggestion of a debate on Article 370, Mr. Omar Abdullah said: “I am surprised that those who know nothing about Jammu and Kashmir are commenting on the State. Those who have not read Article 370 are talking about it. If they want a debate on Article 370 with me, let them tell me where and when they want to talk about it. Even if they want to hold the debate in Ahmedabad, we are ready for the debate anytime.”

Mr. Abdullah pooh-poohed Mr. Modi's concern for the minority Shia community. In Jammu on last Sunday, Mr. Modi spoke of the BJP’s support to the Shia community.

Mr. Abdullah criticised Mr Modi’s purported promise to the Shias of Kargil that in BJP rule, they would observe Muharram with “religious fervor.” He said Mr. Modi was unaware of the difference between a festival of joy and the month of mourning and solemnity. He also had a dig at the BJP leader for having suggested that women and Gujjars were not enjoying their rights in J&K.

The NC leaders alleged that the PDP was “Delhi's creation” immediately after the J&K Legislature unanimously passed a resolution for grant of greater autonomy in 1999. They alleged that the objective of the PDP’s creation was nothing but to destabilise the NC and weaken its base in the Valley.