Delhi-J&K Talks

All Party meeting: J&K towards new Political era, What next?

Kashmir Magazine

Marking a first since abrogation of Article 370, PM Modi’s invitation to Kashmiri political parties - NC, PDP, Congress, Apni Party is being seen as the first ice-breaking between New Delhi and Kashmir after removing special status and bifurcating the erstwhile state into two Union territories.

Though, all the leaders have been claiming that they were able to appraise PM Modi about the pain and sufferings of the people and what restoration of statehood would mean to the population. This tells a common man, how much has changed between the Kashmir and New Delhi equation.

In the meeting, PM has talked about his developmental agenda, delimitation, and elections in the Union territory but has not given any particular timeline, when it comes to restoring statehood, and if sources are to be believed none of the leaders, have raised the demand of restoration of special status. Most of them have demanded statehood before elections and some Confidence-building measures (CBM’s).

PM Modi urged the leaders to participate in the delimitation process set to be undertaken in the state. He stressed on the importance of holding assembly elections as soon as possible.

The PM said, “Our priority is to strengthen grassroots democracy in J&K. Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and J&K gets an elected Government that gives strength to J&K’s development trajectory.”

Former chief minister Farooq Abdullah-led National Conference (NC) demanded the restoration of statehood and said they told Modi that the decisions taken in August 2019 were not in the interest of the people and should be reversed.

Taking note of the PM’s agenda, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have announced their participation in Assembly elections conditional.

Though, Omar also has maintained that being sub- judice (Art 370) doesn’t mean they (NC) would not be discussing the restoration of special status.

Omar also said that they sought the restoration of the J&K cadre of the all-India services, which was merged with the Arunachal, Goa, Mizoram, and Union Territories cadre. He added the Centre refused to discuss the restoration of special status claiming it was a “sub-judicial matter.” On delimitation, he said NC conveyed to Modi that it was not needed. “We told the Prime Minister that we do not stand with what was done on August 5, 2019. We are not ready to accept it. But we would not take the law into our hands. We will fight this in court,” he said.

People Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti said she highlighted the issue of “ongoing persecution” of Kashmiris and also asked Modi to resume dialogue with Pakistan “to boost trade and maintain peace in Kashmir”. She added the atmosphere has become “suffocating” in Kashmir. Mufti said she also spoke against the culture of booking people under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. She added she told Modi the government illegally abrogated J&K’s special status and conveyed to him they would get it restored legally through courts.

J&K Congress unit chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir said Modi’s “body language” reflected there has been a backlash from the voters of the Bharatiya Janata Party over how the abrogation of the region’s special status was carried out.

Former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said Congress put forward five demands: immediate restoration of statehood, protection of land and jobs for the domiciles, return of Kashmiri Pandits, the release of political prisoners and assembly elections.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami said he told Modi it would have been wiser if this meeting was conducted before the nullification of Article 370. “We made it very clear Jammu & Kashmir is committed to remaining with India, but constitutional guarantees of Indian constitution should be given back.” Tarigami said there was “no assurance at all” regarding the fulfilment of the demands.

J&K Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh said he demanded full statehood and elections and that a delimitation process should be initiated only after an elected government is in place. Singh added he also complained about the absence of representatives from Ladakh.

People’s Conference leader Sajad Lone said there was a lot of “emotional bonding” between Modi and Kashmiri leaders and the meeting was held in a “cordial atmosphere.”

Apni Party leader Altaf Bukhari said he also requested protection of land and jobs, improvement in infrastructure, and employment. He added Modi said delimitation would take place and this would be followed by the assembly elections.

People Conference leader, Muzaffar Hussain Beig was quick to add that the Supreme Court was already hearing petitions questioning the Constitutional validity of the J&K Reorganization Act, 2019, and demanding restoration of Article 370 would be tantamount to contempt of court.

‘The people of Jammu and Kashmir need a credible process, a forward movement and the first step should be the restoration of statehood. J&K should have statehood with a Governor and then only the elections should be held,’ he said

Many leaders believe that the onus lies on New Delhi, if it wants to send a clear message of trust, ‘then it should return to us what was ours’.

Leaders further believe that the people of J&K were never against the electoral process and if New Delhi wants the people of J&K to be part of the credible process, then, the election should be held when statehood is restored.

Elections in states should be the first process to resolve the complex situation in J&K. New Delhi was away from Kashmir and today being rigid, it is far more away. Can the distance, be bridged’ If yes, then the process needs a much larger heart as the list of illusions have much more increased between New Delhi and Kashmir says political pundits here.

A political analysts said that a democratic sit-down like PM Modi’s All Party meeting which was held recently at such a time can help reforge a working relationship between the Valley’s leadership and the Centre.

Dialogue between Valley’s mainstream politicians and New Delhi have all but remained frozen in the wake of their unceremonious arrests and prolonged detention after the August 2019 decision.

As a result, the political mainstream of the region, especially those having a strong base in Kashmir Valley, have been critical of successive administrations of the Union Territory for neglecting the demands of the people and raising questions on the development slogan raised post-August 2019.

Furthermore, there have been calls by regional leadership to ‘boycott polls’ in the past, until the statehood of the Union Territory is restored. This could be dangerous for fragile peace in the Valley as the absence of mainstream leaders can open the field for extremist elements.

The BJP leadership’s acerbic comments against the Valley’s politicians have not helped the relationship either. BJP top brass has been calling Kashmiri leaders ‘anti-nationals’ and has dubbed their alliance as ‘Gupkar gang’.

A democratic sit-down like PM Modi’s All Party meeting which was held recently at such a time can help reforge a working relationship between the Valley’s leadership and the Centre.

Now the question is Will New Delhi fulfill the demands made by the leaders or will go as per its plan as Union Home Minister, Amit Shah has made it amply clear that statehood will be restored only when the atmosphere is conducive, and the bigger question is, will these political parties participate in the election process of UT. If the political parties accept the New Delhi offer, they will not be abandoning their positions and credibility before their vote bank and if they reject the same, they will leave turf open for the BJP and its allied candidates.