Why an all-party meet on Jammu and Kashmir

Why an all-party meet on Jammu and Kashmir

The Centre needs to address issues of regional identity and its protection to make such political initiatives viable and result-oriented

Holding elections would be the first step towards political empowerment. Credit: PTI Photo

Not the one to undergo a sudden change of heart, particularly on issues close to his personal ideological beliefs - Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) among one of the core issues - Prime Minister Narendra Modi's move to call an all-party was more baffling than surprising.

What has led to this sudden change of heart? Interestingly, it has happened sooner than expected. It was not long ago that the invitees to the meeting were vilified and incarcerated. So, is the invite an admission that the Modi government's RSS driven agenda on J&K - post the partial abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and annulling Article 35A - has failed?

There are two clear takeaways from the over three-hour meeting, reflecting on the Centre's thinking about J&K. Firstly, the delimitation of assembly constituencies is to be followed by elections with no time frame in sight. Thus, return to statehood seems farfetched, and reversal on Article 370 and 35A seems improbable.

Second, suddenly, the National Conference (NC) patriarch Farooq Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti figured in Modi's scheme of things. These are the same leaders who, alongside Congress, were blamed by the hosts of the June 24, 2021, all-party meeting for having misgoverned, annihilated and looted Kashmir. The two leaders of the Kashmir centric parties, more so Ms Mufti, were targeted for allegedly kowtowing to the Pakistan line.

Against this backdrop, convening an all-party meeting with the participation of both the NC and PDP gives a sense that not only has the Centre's earlier gameplan in J&K failed to deliver, but political and diplomatic expediencies have forced it to revert to old warhorses in the Union Territory. Interestingly, both the parties have been allies of the BJP-led NDA at one point or another.

It implies that the new political experiment the Modi government has tried, particularly in Kashmir, has failed to deliver as expected. It is almost two years now that the state of J&K was bifurcated into two UTs with a vow by the Centre and the ruling BJP to create a new political order bereft of Abdullahs, Muftis and even the Congress, to fulfil the dream of a "New Kashmir". But, nothing of the sort happened.

There is no denying that the Centre convened the all-party meeting under the shadow of developments in Afghanistan, with the Taliban raring to take over the country's reins. It is feared this might adversely impact Kashmir, where militancy has been by and large under control but certainly not over yet. But, more than this, the local domestic political/electoral compulsions have forced the ruling dispensation to take the much delayed political initiative involving all parties.

The Centre/BJP's experiment to create an alternative political force through PDP turncoat and former finance minister in the PDP-BJP alliance government, Altaf Bukhari, who has floated a new political outfit, Apni Party, comprising defectors from different political parties, and ilks of Peoples Conference's Mr Sajad Lone- who incidentally was an ally and minister in the same government could not prove their worth. It is another matter that Lone made a common cause with Farooq Abdullah and Ms Mufti to join the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) only to quit under mysterious circumstances.

With the NC and PDP under constant check with their leaders in house arrest and the Congress not in the PM's scheme of things, and neither the Bukhari-Lone experiment nor the much-talked emergence of new leadership order as an outcome of the District Development Council elections, taking place, the options with the Centre were limited. Thus, the only workable course of action left was to initiate a political process by roping mainstream political parties.

It is a hard fact that despite their best efforts and pumping in resources, the BJP has not been able to find a foothold in the Valley. These factors pointed towards the ignominy of a political vacuum occurring in the Union Territory, particularly Kashmir. The fear that Pakistan-backed militant outfits might benefit from this situation by exploiting people's sentiments over the withdrawal of special status and statehood forced the government to convene an all-party meeting hurriedly. Since both NC and PDP still enjoy ground support in the Valley with pockets of influence in the Jammu region and the Congress having a pan J&K presence, it became a compulsion for the Modi dispensation to involve them in the political initiative. The fact of the matter is that no political initiative would have been possible without the three under the prevailing circumstances.

There is also the growing public disenchantment with the governing system in the Jammu region, the stronghold of the BJP. In the aftermath of the dilution of Article 370, measures such as land and job protection for locals have not been implemented. There is accompanying economic distress due to the ineffectiveness of the post Article 370 regime, which the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened.

Over-riding all these factors is political empowerment, which has different dimensions but is a common concern in the Jammu and Kashmir regions. While Jammu's ire on regional disparities have remained unaddressed despite overwhelming electoral support that the BJP received in the last five elections of different levels, Kashmir's identity crisis is directly related to the dilution of Article 370 and related issues. Interestingly, statehood demand has become a common link between the two regions that otherwise have different perspectives on many issues.

The issue of identity and political empowerment is as serious even in the adjoining Union Territory of Ladakh. Coincidentally, on the eve of the all-party meeting, the apex committee for People's Movement of Ladakh demanded a Legislative Assembly for the hilly desert and bringing the area under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution that protects tribal rights. Interestingly, a former BJP MP, Thupstan Tsewang, heads the apex committee. One of its active members is the party's sitting MP and a close Amit Shah acolyte, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, along with representatives from other political parties.

At best, the all-party meeting can be termed as an ice-breaking exercise. Holding elections would be the first step towards political empowerment. The issues of regional identity and its protection need to be addressed as per the people's aspirations to make political initiatives such as this viable and result oriented.

(The writer is an independent journalist who writes on Jammu and Kashmir)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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