Jammu and Kashmir will be given statehood "at an appropriate time", Home Minister Amit Shah said Saturday, during a Lok Sabha discussion on the J&K Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
Responding to claims that passing an amendment to the 2019 bill - which split the former state into two union territories after Article 370 was withdrawn - meant the centre had no intention of restoring statehood, a furious Mr Shah said he had "clarified the intentions" of the bill.
"Many MPs said bringing the amendment means J&K won't get statehood. I am piloting the bill, I brought it. I have clarified the intentions. Nowhere is it written that Jammu and Kashmir won't get statehood. Where are you drawing this conclusion from?" Mr Shah asked of the opposition.
"I have said in this House and I say it again - this bill has got nothing to do with the statehood of Jammu & Kashmir. Statehood will be given... at an appropriate time," Mr Shah stressed.
On Monday Congress's Ghulam Nabi Azad said: "You (Mr Shah) had promised that statehood will be restored....But this bill creates suspicion government wants to keep J&K as a union territory."
The J&K Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill seeks to merge the J&K cadre of all-India services officers with the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre.
The Home Minister also criticised the opposition - particularly the Congress - for seeking answers over promises made as J&K's special status was withdrawn, but failing to provide any of their own.
"We were asked what we did about promises made during abrogation of Article 370. It has been 17 months since... and you are demanding an account? Did you bring the account of what you did for 70 years? Had you worked properly... you need not have asked us," Mr Shah raged.
"I will give an account for everything. But those who were given the opportunity to govern for generations should look within if they are even fit to demand an account," he added.
Mr Shah pointed to the conduct of local body polls with over 51 per cent voter turnout in November last year - the first since J&K was split into two union territories - as proof that statehood for the region would soon be restored.
In a move that sparked controversy and made international headlines, the centre, on August 5, 2019, revoked special status given to J&K under Article 370 and split into two union territories.
The move was preceded and followed by a security blanket that included the suspension of mobile internet and broadband services for over 18 months and the deployment of thousands of troops.
Internet services were slowly restored only after the Supreme Court told off the centre and called the curbs an assault on free speech and democratic rights.
The security blanket also included the detention of dozens of mainstream political leaders, including former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, all of whom were later charged under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and only released late last year.
Multiple petitions have been filed, including one by the Farooq and Omar Abdullah-led National Conference, before the Supreme Court asking for a review of the centre's decision on Article 370.
In July last year Farooq Abdullah said: "We will fight for our rights... within democratic means."
With input from PTI