National Conference president and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah said on Friday that his party is preparing to approach the Supreme Court against the Delimitation Commission's recommendations as it believes that the very basis of the exercise is "illegal".
The veteran politician, who has been Chief Minister of the erstwhile State three times as well as Union Minister, also said the time has come for the Opposition parties to come together and fight the forces who are bent on destroying the secular fabric of the country.
Giving a detailed account of his interactions during the Delimitation Commission meeting earlier this week, Mr. Abdullah told PTI that the very first point raised "by us at the meeting was that the commission was illegal" as the party's petition challenging the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir was pending in the Supreme Court.
However, commission chairperson Justice (retd.) Ranjana Desai countered the National Conference's argument by saying that as far as the panel was concerned she had been given authority by the Government and, therefore, she had done this job.
"But whatever the Supreme Court finally says, it will be binding on them (Commission) also. So that clears the position. Then they explained other parameters also.... We are now preparing to go to the Supreme Court," he said.
On the Supreme Court not interfering in recommendations made by previous Delimitation Commissions, Mr. Abdullah said the present commission was born after the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir's special status , which has been challenged in the top court and no decision has been pronounced on it yet.
"That is why...we are going to the Supreme Court. Others have also gone," he said.
On Minister of State in the PMO Jitendra Singh claiming after the Delimitation Commission meeting of December 20 that he and other NC members were satisfied, Mr. Abdullah said, "What did he (Mr. Singh) expect us to do. Fight? We are not goondas. We have no voting rights, we can only listen and put our objections which they have allowed us to do. And they have given us time till December 31. Our report will be there before that with our objections." He said since the report is preliminary, the commission will see the upsurge that has taken place among various communities in Jammu and Kashmir, and reiterated his demand for holding the delimitation exercise after the next census.
Referring to the reservation of nine seats for Scheduled Tribes and seven seats for Scheduled Castes in the preliminary report of the commission, the NC leader said, "We are not against the Scheduled Tribe reservation. Without reservation also, they had 15 members. So there is nothing new." "The Scheduled Caste (population) has also increased over the years...Kashmiri Pandits have been hankering for this for a long time. What about them, the Sikhs and the people of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir? I am absolutely certain it is going to further divide communities and that is a tragedy," he said.
On the criticism from certain quarters over its participation in the second meeting of the Delimitation Commission, the National Conference leader said, "If we did not participate, they would still criticise us. So criticism is part of this life and we do not get worried by criticism. They (critics) give us strength. Because we participated, we realised what is in it and what have they done? How have they done?"
Asked about his participation in a meeting chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi recently, Mr. Abdullah said, "The unity is essential if we want to save this nation, (protect it from) further division and further damage to its existence." "The unity is a priority and luckily Gandhi's efforts are to that effect. We should appreciate that she has taken this step. It is a good beginning and I am sure this will culminate in a good unity before the 2024 election. I am sure more meetings will take place, bringing more people together as we alone cannot beat the communal forces. She has to be part of (the united opposition)," Mr. Abdullah said.
On the differences between the Congress and the Mamata Banerjee -led Trinamool Congress, he said things have to be ironed out and "those will be ironed out, there is no doubt about it."
"Past has to be put behind us if we want to work on the future," he said, expressing hope that "there will be unity of purpose" among the Opposition parties.
"So this is what our intentions are that we should get this India back on the rails that we all dreamt of and we no longer have the fear that we would be put under various draconian laws and in prison," Mr. Abdullah said.
Asked about the investigations of the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI against him, he said he will come out of these as a much stronger person. "It does not matter. This is part of life which you have to face. You do not run away from it and I will come back as a much stronger person."