Modi assured statehood will be restored: J&K leaders

Modi assured elections will be held after delimitation, statehood will be restored, say J&K leaders

Modi also called for doing away the distance of heart (dil ki doori) and not just the distance from Delhi (dilli se doori)

PM Modi meets all-party meeting with political leaders from J&K. Credit: Twitter Photo/@PMOIndia

Holding the first face to face conversation with mainstream leaders of Jammu and Kashmir two years after government revoked its special state status and turned it into a union territory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday assured the delegation of 14 leaders from the region that elections will be held in Jammu and Kashmir soon after delimitation exercise is completed.

"Today’s meeting with political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir is an important step in the ongoing efforts towards a developed and progressive J&K, where all-round growth is furthered," the Prime Minister tweeted after the three-hour long meeting during which he also called for doing away the distance of heart (dil ki doori) and not just the distance from Delhi (dilli se doori).

"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," Modi said underlining that the biggest strength of the nation's democracy is the ability to sit across a table and exchange views.

Also read —  Explained | Delimitation in Jammu and Kashmir

Modi told the leaders of Jammu and Kashmir that it is the people, especially the youth who have to provide political leadership to J&K, and ensure their aspirations are duly fulfilled.

He said that he wanted to call the meeting of J&K leaders last year but Covid-19 delayed the plan as it also delayed the completion of the work of the delimitation commission, which should have been over by now.

However, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata hit out at Modi questioning why the statehood of the Jammu and Kashmir was "snatched" first and said that the Centre's handling of the J&K "insulted the nation."

The demands made by 14 leaders from eight parties of Jammu and Kashmir ranged from seeking restoration of special status for the state, reverting the statehood to it to seeking early polls and guarantee for their land and property.

Centre, however, made it clear to them about its 'no go back' stance on the issue of abrogation of Article 370 while expressing its willingness to restore the statehood and hold Assembly polls in the state soon after the delimitation exercise is completed.

While PDP leader and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti batted for restoring the special status to Jammu and Kashmir, most of the leaders from the region said the decision on Article 370 should be left to the Supreme Court, which is hearing a slew of petitions on this matter.

After the meeting, Mufti asserted that her party will "struggle to restore Article 370 back to the state even if it takes months and years" through peaceful means. She reiterated that the central government should speak to Pakistan to restore peace in Jammu and Kashmir if it can speak to China. She resented new laws every day like domicile and sought security of land belonging to people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Mufti said she told the Prime Minister that his government abrogated Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir in an "illegal unconstitutional manner" because it was part of BJP's agenda whereas he should have done it through a proposal of Jammu and Kashmir Assembly even if he wanted to remove it.

"People of Jammu and Kashmir are in great difficulty. It has become difficult for them to even breathe. They are put behind bars even if they breathe a bit louder," she said.

Linking restoration of statehood to peaceful elections, Home Minister Amit Shah said, "we are committed to ensure all round development of Jammu and Kashmir. The future of Jammu and Kashmir was discussed and the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in Parliament." About the meeting he said it was conducted in a "very cordial environment". "Everyone expressed their commitment to democracy and the Constitution. It was stressed to strengthen the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir."

Delimitation commission headed by former SC judge Justice (retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai was set up in March 2020. This will increase the number of seats of J and K Assembly from 83 to 90. If  the twenty-four seats of the Assembly that continue to remain vacant because of falling in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) are included, the number comes at 114.

Minister of State for PMO Jitendra Singh said, "the Prime Minister said everyone will have to work together to take democracy to the grass root in Jammu and Kashmir. He also said there should be an atmosphere of people's participation to ensure all round development in the state. Modi pointed out how elections to Panchayati Raj and other civic bodies  were held peacefully and now there is a need is a need to walk togethers towards the next step democratice process, i.e of holding Assembly elections."

In the meeting responding to the demands to release political prisoners, Shah said only a handful of political prisoners remain behind bars there and the government will set up a committee to examine their release.

In a clear pointer that the terms of engagement have now changed as far negotiations on Jammu and Kashmir are concerned, most of the leaders attending the meeting on Thursday, who had been under House arrest for months after the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019, expressed happiness at the talks starting at least.

RSS leader Ram Madhav, who had looked after the J&K region for the BJP for a long time, said, "the fact that the J & K meeting has gone on for more than 3 hrs is in itself an indication of its success."

Ex-PDP member Muzaffar Hussain Baig, who is now with Sajjad Lone's People's Conference said the overwhelming majority of the leaders, who attended the meeting sought restoration of statehood of Jammu and Kashmir.

Baig refused to comment on the remarks of PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti that the central government should also talk to Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue. Before attending the meeting, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah also distanced from Mufti's remarks saying it is her party's agenda.

Omar Abdullah, whose party is one of the petitioners, seeking restoration of special status to the state, said that his party will continue to fight the legal battle in the Supreme Court on this. He also demanded that J&K should get back full state status with independent J and K cadre to the state. He said the Centre carrying out delimitation exercises  in Jammu and Kashmir in isolation has raised suspicions. Sajjad Lone said, "we all were quite positive that there will be some delivery."  

Centre also listed out development initiatives carried out by the central government in the region after the Centre had on August 5, 2019 decided to abrogate provisions of Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

For months, the Jammu and Kashmir leaders including all three Chief Ministers Farooq, Omar and Mehbooba were kept in House arrest. Months after their release, the Thursday meeting called by the Prime Minister in the national capital was the first political reach out and in a way began the process for rolling out of the electoral exercise in the state.

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