Kashmir meeting: A good start

Kashmir meeting: A good start

It may have shown that the political ice that has accumulated after the scrapping of Article 370 in August 2019 has started melting

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

The best outcome of Thursday’s meeting on Jammu and Kashmir convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the meeting itself. It may have shown that the political ice that has accumulated after the scrapping of Article 370 in August 2019 has started melting and it is possible to have some communication between the government and the political parties in Kashmir. That marks a comedown for the government which had reviled their leaders as the ‘Gupkar gang’ and ‘anti-nationals’.

The government had also taken to repression and disinformation about Kashmir. In about two years it has thought of making an outreach for reasons that have been variously cited as pressure from the US and a change in the geo-strategic situation. Whatever the reason, the initiative has been widely welcomed and deserves to be taken forward.

Read more: No option but to talk to Centre: J&K leaders

However, no clear road map was shown for taking it forward, though the Prime Minister promised to restore statehood to Kashmir some time in future. A bigger assurance was about holding elections there after the delimitation process, which is now being undertaken, is completed. The main aim of the government in holding the meeting was probably to get endorsement from parties for the delimitation process which, it is expected, will give more political weightage to the Jammu region in the Assembly. Kashmir has not had a representative government for three years, and it is necessary to restore the democratic process.

The process needs to be free and fair. It should be noted that even in the District Development Council elections last year, which cannot be said to have been free and fair, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) proved their relevance and dominance. The different political voices of the former state need to be heard and heeded in the spirit of democratic accommodation if the government is serious about its outreach.

The parties seem to have been happy with their interaction with the government, though some of them were disappointed that there was no concrete outcome. There are also differences over whether elections or statehood should come first. All issues of concern, like the scrapping of Article 370, change in regulations relating to residence and jobs, the holding of elections and even the need for wider talks, were raised at the meeting.

Most leaders agreed, perhaps realistically, that a decision on Article 370 should be left to the Supreme Court. PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti stuck to her party’s known positions while the National Conference seems to have softened its responses. Others, too, voiced their views, and an early restoration of statehood was the most common demand. The government should respond positively, without sticking to its strong-arm agenda which has not yielded any good result.

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