Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the leaders of Jammu and Kashmir in their first collective meeting with him after the imposition of President's rule
In their first collective meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the breakdown of Mehbooba Mufti’s coalition government and imposition of the Governor’s rule in June 2018, all the mainstream political parties of Jammu and Kashmir have accepted the constitutional changes of August 2019 as fait accompli.
The all-party meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi on Thursday, 24 June, was all the more significant for the fact that it was the Modi government’s first outreach to the Kashmiri politicians after abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A and bifurcation of the erstwhile State into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh through a Parliamentary legislation and a Presidential order on 5 August 2019.
Most of the valley-based parties had strongly opposed the Central intervention and challenged the transformation in the Supreme Court of India.
With a few exceptions, most of the Kashmiri politicians were detained ahead of the historic legislation in the Parliament on 4 August 2019 and either lodged in jails or placed under house arrest for several months. All of them were subsequently released in 2020.
After Mehbooba’s release from the 14-month-long detention and house arrest, seven political parties—including Congress and CPI (M)—formed an alliance, namely Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) for the purpose of spearheading a movement for restoration of Article 370 and 35-A which granted special constitutional status to Jammu and Kashmir. In days of its formation, Congress distanced itself from the PAGD when it fielded candidates separately in the District Development Council (DDC) elections of October-December 2020.
Jammu and Kashmir leaders greeting the Prime Minister
The second major setback to Farooq Abdullah-led PAGD came in January 2021 when Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference (PC) deserted the alliance. The PAGD now comprises Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) besides three more parties which do not have a substantial base in J&K.
Early this month, the PAGD held its first meeting after the DDC elections of December 2021. In a subsequent meeting, it decided to participate in the Prime Minister’s first meeting with the Kashmiri leaders during the President’s rule.
Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah of the NC (both former Chief Ministers), former CM and the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti, ex-CM Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ghulam Ahmad Mir and former deputy CM Tara Chand (all from the Congress), BJP’s Ravinder Raina, Nirmal Singh and Kavinder Gupta, PC’s Sajad Lone and Muzzaffar Hussain Baig, the CPI (M) leader Yousuf Tarigami, National Panthers Party’s Bhim Singh and the Apni Party President Altaf Bukhari participated in the meeting on the PM’s invitation.
PM Modi was flanked by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Minister of State in PMO, Dr Jitendra Singh and the J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.
Sources present in the three-hour-long meeting said that the leaders of the NC, the PDP, the PC, the CPI (M) and the Congress asserted invariably that the August 2019 changes had been affected “unconstitutionally and illegally” and the same had left a majority of the people in J&K “outraged”. Some of them suggested that the same changes could have been executed “constitutionally” through the State legislature.
Significantly, none of the 14 invitees rejected these changes as unacceptable or sounded disinclined to participate in the next Assembly elections until restoration of status quo ante. A number of the Kashmiri leaders had last year pledged to stay from all elections until “all that has been snatched away in August 2019 and thereafter” would be restored. They were speaking a completely different language in today’s meeting. “Today they were demanding restoration of the J & K cadre of IAS and IPS in place of the AGMUT cadre”, said a BJP leader.
Some of the speakers emphasised that J&K’s “full Statehood” should be restored before the Assembly elections but they did not make it a precondition to their participation in the elections. Prime Minister Modi as well as Home Minister Shah assured them that the Statehood would be restored as per their commitment to the Parliament but only after the constitution of the popular government. They asserted that the Assembly elections would be held immediately after completion of the delimitation process which was currently underway. They sought cooperation of all the political parties with the delimitation process.
As regards the most crucial issue of the restoration of J&K’s special status by revocation of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of August 2019, the J&K parties, including the Congress and the CPI (M), agreed to the Centre’s suggestion that the petitioners would pursue it in the Supreme Court. They did not insist on the Centre conceding their plea in the apex court. Sources said the participants did not either insist on revocation of the Presidential order that had withdrawn Article 35-A.
Contrary to some speculations, not one of the participants emphasised on engaging Kashmir’s separatists or Pakistan in a dialogue process alongside the current outreach to the mainstream politicians. Mehbooba Mufti, according to the insiders, spoke of the need of engaging “all stakeholders” and reopening the Uri and Poonch trade and travel routes on the LoC with the PoK. However, choosing her words cautiously, she did not mention either the Hurriyat or Pakistan.
In a significant development before the meeting, Farooq Abdullah distanced himself from the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti’s demand of engaging Pakistan in the dialogue process which she had made in Srinagar early this week. “She is the leader of a different party and I represent a different party. She has her own agenda and I have my own. I am not going to bring in Pakistan. I am going to talk to my own country and our own Prime Minister”, Farooq told India Today TV.
In a thread of tweets after the meeting, Prime Minister Modi assured early Assembly after completion of the delimitation process in Jammu and Kashmir.
“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”, 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”.
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. pic.twitter.com/SjwvSv3HIp
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 24, 2021
“Our democracy’s biggest strength is the ability to sit across a table and exchange views. I told the leaders of J&K that it is the people, specially the youth who have to provide political leadership to J&K, and ensure that their aspirations are duly fulfilled”, PM tweeted.
Our democracy’s biggest strength is the ability to sit across a table and exchange views. I told the leaders of J&K that it is the people, specially the youth who have to provide political leadership to J&K, and ensure their aspirations are duly fulfilled. pic.twitter.com/t743b0Su4L
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 24, 2021