Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined the Centre’s commitment to the installation of a duly elected government in Jam-mu & Kashmir and urged political leaders from the region to fully support quick delimitation of constituencies so that elections could take place soon in the Union Territory.
After his first meeting with leaders from Kashmir since August 2019 when his government ended the special status assured to it through Article 370 and approved its reorganisation into a Union Territory, the PM tweeted, “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.”
In the meeting, he made a pointed reference that corruption-free governance was increasing the faith of people in the administration.
PM Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah, J&K LG Manoj Sinha, Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad, NC’s Farooq Abdullah and PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti were among those present at Thursday’s meeting
The J&K meeting was held against the backdrop of rampant expectations in certain quarters that the government might commit itself to early redemption of its promise to restore the UT to a state. But while home minister Amit Shah, in response to insistence from the NC, PDP and Congress, did reiterate the Centre’s commitment to upgrade the UT, he made it clear that the immediate priority was early holding of polls after the delimitation commission had wrapped up the exercise to redraw the boundaries of assembly constituencies.
The commission is scheduled to hold a meeting with representatives of political parties and MPs shortly.
The attendees included National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad, Apni Party’s Altaf Hussain, CPM’s Yousuf Tarigami, Muzaffar Baig and Sajad Lone of People’s Conference besides BJP leaders from the UT.
The discussions were without acrimony or finger pointing, with the PM setting the tone by saying there was no time limit for speakers to present their views. Modi, while appreciating the cordiality, expressed satisfaction that the deliberations reflected commitment to India’s territorial integrity and strength of its democracy. He told the attendees about his personal sorrow over each death in the trouble-torn state, be it of an “innocent civilian, the youth who has picked up the gun or a member of the security forces”.
Expressing his wish to remove “Dilli ki doori” (distance between Centre and J&K) as well as “Dil ki doori” (distrust ), PM Modi said his government was fully committed to taking forward the democratic process in J&K against the backdrop of a three-tier panchayati raj system which is in place for the first time in the UT. Conduct of assembly polls, just like the DDC polls, was a priority, he added.
Though the Centre’s action to nullify Article 370 was criticised, it was not a sticking point or a faultine in the discussions. Most leaders called for restoration of statehood, but did not insist on it being a prerequisite for holding polls or their participation in it. It was felt that the decision to do away with J&K’s special status was before the Supreme Court and should be settled there.
Mufti, the Abdullahs and Azad, all former CMs, articulated the need for restoration of democracy in J&K and the need to free political detenues. They said a bureaucratic arrangement under the lieutenant governor could not be a substitute for an assembly and an elected government. Baig said domicile rights under Article 35A could be placed under Article 371, and responded to an interjection by Mufti, explaining how this could be done.
The government said elections could happen soon after delimitation, and reiterated its assurance on the floor of Parliament regarding restoration of statehood.
Later, Mufti told the media, “We told the PM that Article 370 should be restored as it was given to us by India and not Pakistan. It was PM Nehru who had given special status to J&K. This secures our identity, the security of land and jobs and this has to be restored.” But she added this would be a constitutional and peaceful struggle. Apni Party’s Hussain said, “We demanded statehood and the PM assured that as soon as the delimitation exercise is over, elections will be announced. The home minister assured all for restoration of statehood.”
While 14 political leaders from J&K attended the meeting, others present included J&K LG Manoj Sinha, home minister Amit Shah, MoS (PMO) Jitendra Singh and NSA Ajit Doval. Azad saying it was the right time to grant “full statehood” as the security situation in J&K had improved and a border ceasefire was in place.
However, indicating that statehood may follow only after installation of an elected government in J&K, home minister Amit Shah tweeted after the meeting, “Delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in Parliament.”