New Delhi: Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah on Friday said he "truly believes" that the future of Jammu and Kashmir lied with the Union of India and that the state could not survive on its own if given Azadi (independence).
He also underlined that the people of Kashmir were well within their right in demanding greater autonomy for the state as that was the main condition for joining the Union of India.
"I honestly, truly believe that the future of Jammu and Kashmir lies within the Indian Union. And I am not playing politics here or playing to the gallery," Abdullah said during a panel discussion at the launch of the book "Paradise At War - A Political History of Kashmir", penned by Radha Kumar and published by Aleph.
"I don't believe that an independent Jammu and Kashmir can survive in this environment of Pakistan on one side, China on the other and then India here (on one side). Mine is a practical realisation. It is based on analysing and understanding the realities of Jammu and Kashmir.
"But they (people demanding Azadi) are entitled to their sentiments and I don't argue with that. Their sentiment is based on emotions. Mine is based on 'if it comes, you won't survive'," he said.
Abdullah added the government of India needed to fulfil its promises that were made to the state in 1947 when it became a part of the Union of India.
"Autonomy is a historic fact. How is asking for autonomy in any way anti-national? If autonomy is secession, then there is no mainstream politics in Jammu and Kashmir," he added.
Berating the Narendra Modi government's handling of the Kashmir situation, Abdullah said that a large number of youth were willing to join militancy in recent years and militancy had spread to regions of the state where it earlier was not.
"The fact that of late, the highest number of youngsters are willing to join militancy can't be blamed to Pakistan. If you look at the ground situation, militancy has emerged in areas which were hitherto free of militancy," Abdullah said.
He also accused the Congress of playing the "Jammu card" or trying to play up the communal divide between the regions of Jammu and Kashmir for political gains, although not "to the extent" that BJP did in 2014 elections.
Radha Kumar, who was part of the interlocuters' team despatched by the Centre at the height of the 2010 unrest in the Valley, said the failure of the peace process engendered more discontent. She regretted that the Union government never acted on the recommendations made by the interlocuters and hence the situation went from bad to worse.
"We have today reached a point where I don't see any Kashmiri willing to make peace (with India) at least in the next five years, and I am being optimistic," she said.