Sending out a clear message that the Centre wants to limit the discussion to political and administrative issues, like restoration of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir, delimitation of constituencies, and assembly polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to be accompanied by only two cabinet colleagues, Home Minister Amit Shah and Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) Minister Jitendra Singh at the all party meeting on J&K on Thursday.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman are likely to be absent from the discussions as the government is keen to focus on issues strictly involving the functioning of the newly carved Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, which falls directly under the administrative control of the union home ministry.
Rajnath Singh has a pre-scheduled visit to Kerala for the next two days and is expected to continue with his naval engagements, starting Thursday. Issues involving finances of Jammu and Kashmir are not on the talking table for now. Unless there are any last minute changes, the PM will only be accompanied by Shah and Jitender Singh.
“Since all matters concern the MHA and DoPT, the union home minister, home secretary and other senior bureaucrats will be present ,” said a senior government official. The message is clear: the government is no longer looking at Jammu and Kashmir from the security prism alone. It is also definitely not looking at lending any “special” treatment to the full fledged Union territory. Instead, the focus is on the promises made by Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament.
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, chaired by National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, is expected to put forward four main issues on the discussion table, which are likely to be addressed by the Union home ministry in detail. These are: demand for immediate restoration of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir, demand for postponement of the delimitation exercise, need to hold assembly elections, and the release of all political prisoners.
It is wait and watch for political parties like the National Conference, PDP, the Congress, Left parties and others on how the government responds to these demands. Further discussions on each of these issues are likely to progress depending on how forthcoming the government is on these concerns.
PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti has been demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners and is likely to keep it as a precondition for further talks.
The NC, Congress and Left are expected to demand postponement of the delimitation exercise as they view it as an attempt by the BJP to change the demography of Jammu and Kashmir. Whether the assembly elections should be held after the completion of delimitation exercise is expected to become a contentious issue as the Centre may be unwilling to postpone the exercise.
The issue is likely to generate a lot of heat in Thursday’s meeting since the Central government feels that it is a normal periodic exercise that must take place time to time.
The MHA and DoPT are of the view that the embargo on delimitation by the previous government had obstructed the democratic processes.
Both the central ministries involved are of the view that delimitation is needed since parameters for constituencies for state assembly largely depend on population demography, land demography and topography which changes time to time. There is also rotation of the reserved constituencies. The exercise, therefore, is needed to be undertaken periodically to make it more compatible with a free and fair democracy, said an official.
The government is likely to impress upon the Jammu and Kashmir leaders, former chief ministers and others that there should be a free franchise where all procedures and processes must be followed.
However, the state leaders are likely to share their experience of how the merger of cadres for civil servants and the new lands laws had created a lot of anger and resentment among people in Jammu and Kashmir.
On the issue of statehood, Home minister Amit Shah has already said on the floor of the House that it is an arrangement for the time being and once the circumstances are congenial it will be reverted back to a state.
The year 2019-20, since August 5-6, has been eventful for J&K which witnessed abrogation of its special status under Article 370. The Constitutional changes which happened on August 5, 2019 triggered a political storm in the erstwhile state where mainstream political parties like the NC, PDP, Congress boycotted the government. The leaders were placed under house arrest even as the MHA deployed a heavy presence of security forces to keep the law and order situation under control.
In the meantime, crackdown by central agencies like the NIA and arrests of several separatist leaders for their alleged terror linkages and financing anti-national activities resulted in further resentment among leaders like Mehbooba Mufti.
However, when Mehbooba, Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah, CPI(M) leader Tarigami, senior Congress Gulam Nabi Azad among 14 leaders meet the prime minister and home minister on Thursday, all eyes will be on how willing the Centre is to listen and accommodate the demands of the leaders of the erstwhile state.