Centre assures fast-paced delimitation, Assembly elections; no time-line for Statehood

Prime Minister Narendra Modi posing with participants of All-Party Meeting in New Delhi on Thursday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi posing with participants of All-Party Meeting in New Delhi on Thursday.

Wants to end ‘Dilli Ki Duri & Dil Ki Duri’ with J&K: Modi at All-Party Meet

PM wants grassroot democracy in J&K: Dr Jitendra

Build trust, restore identity of Jammu & Kashmir: Farooq

Cong raises 5 demands including rehabilitation of KPs: Azad

Will struggle for 370 peacefully, Constitutionally: Mehbooba

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, June 24: Historic All-Party Meeting (APM) on Jammu and Kashmir called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today saw the Central Government representatives committing to fast-paced process of delimitation of Assembly constituencies followed by elections leading to formation of an elected Government in J&K besides restoration of Statehood as promised in the Parliament, but without any time-frame.

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Most significant was the fact that majority of participants have left restoration of special status of Jammu and Kashmir to the Supreme Court where abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A has been challenged by various political parties and other organizations including the National Conference.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who chaired the meeting, said he wanted to end ‘Dilli Ki Duri’ as well as ‘Dil Ki Duri’ with Jammu and Kashmir, which has been witnessing prolonged spell of militancy and unrest. He said he wanted to meet the political leaders from J&K earlier but the meeting was delayed due to COVID-19. In fact, he is understood to have told participants that this was his first major meeting after second wave of COVID which wasn’t virtual.
Though there was a categorical assurance from the Prime Minister and Home Minister Amit Shah that the process for delimitation of Assembly constituencies will be fast-paced followed by the Assembly elections and restoration of Statehood as promised in the Parliament but there was no time-line set either for the polls or for restoration of Statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, insiders told the Excelsior.
The Government representatives made no mention of August 5, 2019 decisions including abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir and it’s bifurcation into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. The issue was, however, raised by some of the participants.
Out of 14 participants, only nine were authorized to speak at the APM for five minutes each including Dr Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mehbooba Mufti, Kavinder Gupta, Muzaffar Hussain Beigh, Altaf Bukhari, Sajjad Ghani Lone, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami and Prof Bhim Singh. Other participants include Omar Abdullah, Ravinder Raina, GA Mir, Dr Nirmal Singh and Tara Chand.
Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Dr Jitendra Singh gave the welcome address and conducted the meeting. The Home Minister summed up the meeting while the Prime Minister made concluding remarks.
Modi is reported to have assured all political parties that they would be an integral part of the delimitation process and their views would be taken on board and he urged them to participate in the process to ensure early completion. This was an indication towards the National Conference which hadn’t attended first meeting of the Delimitation Commission but was now having second- thoughts over participation.
Modi said he wanted to remove ‘Dilli ki duri’ as well as ‘Dil ki duri’ (distance from Delhi as well as distance of heart) with J&K, according to official sources.
An official statement released tonight by the Government on the meeting also had mention of delimitation of Assembly constituencies followed by the Assembly elections.
As per the statement, Modi said priority of the Government is to strengthen grassroots democracy in Jammu. He added that delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that elections take place and J&K gets an elected Government that gives strength to J&K’s development trajectory.
The statement quoted the Prime Minister as telling Jammu and Kashmir leaders 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 expressed satisfaction at the progress of development projects in J&K and urged all the leaders to work together for progress and realize aspirations of youth.
However, the Government statement said Home Minister Amit Shah emphasized that the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in the Parliament.
Though Shah’s statement had mention of restoration of statehood it didn’t say when it would be restored and whether it would be give before Assembly elections or later.
The elections will, however, depend on completion of the delimitation of Assembly constituencies. Delimitation Commission headed by Justice (Retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai had completed one-year tenure on March 5, 2021 after which its term was further extended by another year.
“Everyone expressed their commitment to democracy and the Constitution. It was stressed to strengthen the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir,” Amit Shah said in a tweet.
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, NSA Ajit Doval, four former Chief Ministers of the erstwhile state — Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti — were among those who attended the three-and-a-half-hour-long meeting.
Modi patiently heard out suggestions and inputs from all participants and expressed that all of them shared their frank and honest views, the sources said.
It was an open discussion which revolved around building a better future for Kashmir, they said.
The main focus of the meeting was to strengthen the democratic process and the Prime Minister assured that the Central Government was fully committed to the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir, they said.
Modi emphasized the need to strengthen democracy at the grassroots and work together with the people of Jammu and Kashmir to ensure their uplift.
He expressed happiness on the commitment to the Constitution and democracy espoused by all participants.
Modi said that even one death in Jammu and Kashmir is painful and it is the collective duty to protect the younger generation.
He stressed that there is a need to give opportunities to the youths of Jammu and Kashmir and they will give back lots to the country.
The development achieved by Jammu and Kashmir was discussed in detail with implementation of many pro-people initiatives.
Modi expressed satisfaction with the acceleration of development in Jammu and Kashmir and said that it is creating new hope and aspirations among the people.
He said when people experience corruption-free governance, it inspires trust among them and they also extend their cooperation to the administration and this is visible in Jammu and Kashmir now-a-days, according to the sources.
Modi said there would be political differences but everyone should work in national interest so that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are benefitted.
He stressed that an atmosphere of safety and security needs to be ensured for all sections of society in Jammu and Kashmir, they said.
This is the first interaction between the Central leadership and mainstream parties since August 5, 2019, when the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 and bifurcated it into Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Dr Jitendra Singh said the Prime Minister stands for restoration of grass-root level democracy in Jammu and Kashmir with development.
Dr Jitendra Singh declared that Assembly elections in J&K will be held after delimitation of the constituencies is completed and the people will get an elected Government.
He said Jammu and Kashmir has been witnessing an era of development under Narendra Modi Government.
National Conference president and former Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah urged the Prime Minister to work towards building trust in Jammu and Kashmir by ensuring that its full statehood is restored.
In his remarks at the meeting, Dr Abdullah said his National Conference would continue to challenge through legal and constitutional means the abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution.
“There is a loss of trust which needs to be restored immediately and for that, to begin with, the Centre should work for restoration of complete statehood to Jammu and Kashmir,” Abdullah, who is a Lok Sabha member, said.
“I conveyed to the Prime Minister that the Statehood means reverting even the IAS and IPS cadres of Jammu and Kashmir. The state has to be in totality,” he said after the meeting.
The NC chief, said it was vital for the Centre to restore the identity of Jammu and Kashmir at the earliest so that other democratic exercises could be carried forward.
Senior Congress leader and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said that his party has put forward five demands — including restoration of statehood, the conduct of Assembly elections, release of political prisoners and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits — during the All-Party Meeting.
“All the three members, representing Congress in the all-party meeting, put forward various concerns. We informed the PM that the J&K should not have been downgraded and divided into two Union Territories without consulting the elected representatives,” Azad told reporters after attending the meeting.
“We demanded immediate restoration of Statehood that was assured by the Home Minister Amit Shah on the floor of the House. We told them that the atmosphere is conductive right now as the elections to BDC and DDC have been conducted and the valley is peaceful. The borders are also silent. So, we told them that this is the perfect time to restore statehood,” he said.
Azad said that the other demand that was put forth was to hold Assembly election immediately to restore democracy in J&K. As the DDC and other locals elections were held in J&K, the logical next step is to hold Assembly elections, he added.
He said that Congress also demanded assurance by the Centre that the land and jobs of the citizen of J&K will be protected. “The domicile law is a pre-Independence law and has been in J&K since Maharaja rule. We demanded that the Centre should guarantee that the jobs and land of the locals will be protected,” he said.
The Congress leader said that the demand to release all political detainees was also put forward. “We are not saying that the Government should release militants, but it should release all political detainees who were arrested when the Centre abrogated Article 370 and Article 35 A,” he said.
Azad said the issue of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits was also raised during the meeting. “We demanded that the Kashmiri Pandits, who are living in different parts of the country, including Jammu, should be brought back to Kashmir valley with dignity,” he added
Omar Abdullah said both Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah assured that they were committed to the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s Statehood.
“The takeaway from the meeting was that the Prime Minister said that he wanted to remove ‘dil ki doori and Dilli ki doori’ but I as well as other leaders are sure that one meeting is not enough for the same. However, a process has begun,” Omar, a former Chief Minister, said.
The Central leadership wanted to hold the Assembly elections immediately after the Delimitation Commission submits its report but senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad urged the Prime Minister to restore full Statehood before conducting the polls, he said.
Omar said that his party president Farooq Abdullah said during the meeting that there was an urgent need to rebuild trust in Jammu and Kashmir. “The trust deficit among the people of Jammu and Kashmir needs to be addressed to immediately by the Centre and for that, the process of restoration of complete statehood is necessary,” he said.
On the delimitation commission, Omar Abdullah said the Central leadership was informed that the exercise in itself was defeating the very purpose with which the BJP-led government had carried out the exercise of abrogation of special status on August 5, 2019.
“On one hand the central leadership claimed that the decision in August 2019 was taken for a complete merger of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India and on the other the same Jammu and Kashmir is treated differently by bringing in separate Delimitation Commissions for Assam and us,” Omar said.
The former Chief Minister said that even the Central leadership was of the view the Government could not be run by bureaucrats and that a political government needs to take charge.
Omar Abdullah said, “Our party president has made it clear that as and when an invite for the (Delimitation) Commission meeting will come, we will consider it.”
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti told reporters that the meeting went off well and that she has complimented the Prime Minister for initiating back-channel talks with Pakistan that led to the ceasefire agreement at the Line of Control (LoC) and decrease in infiltration levels.
“I have requested the Prime Minister that, if need be, we could talk to Pakistan once again for further boosting the peace process,” she said.
On the abrogation of Article 370, Mehbooba said that her party would continue to fight for its restoration. “After all the special status has not been given to us by Pakistan. It was given to us by late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar (Vallabhbhai) Patel. We will continue to fight for restoration of special status through legal and constitutional means,” she said.
Mehbooba also demanded resumption of cross-LoC trade which had been stopped by India following reports that it was used for smuggling of arms and ammunition and was being used to fund terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir.
The former Chief Minister said that she congratulated the PM that they talked to Pakistan which led to a ceasefire and less infiltration.
“I informed him about the issues confronted by the people of J&K. People of J&K are in a lot of difficulties after August 5, 2019. They’re angry, upset and emotionally shattered. They feel humiliated. I told the PM that people of J&K don’t accept the manner in which Article 370 was abrogated on August 5, 2019 unconstitutionally, illegally and immorally,” Mehbooba said.
“Like BJP struggled for 70 years to abrogate Article 370, illegally and unconstitutionally, the people of J&K will struggle constitutionally, democratically and peacefully for the restoration of the special status of J&K. Be it months or years, we’ll restore Article 370 in J&K as it’s a matter of our identity,” she said.
Former Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Kavinder Gupta favoured expeditious process for delimitation of Assembly constituencies followed by elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Gupta later told reporters that Jammu and Kashmir could get an elected Government in 2022.
The BJP leader said he thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his sincere efforts to end the political deadlock by holding the dialogue with political parties.
BJP president Ravinder Raina told reporters that the three-member BJP team, which also comprised of two former deputy Chief Ministers – Nirmal Singh and Kavinder Gupta – also pitched for constitution of an apex committee to hold dialogues with representatives of the Kashmiri migrant Pandit community for their dignified return.
“The Prime Minister knows the heartbeat of the people of Jammu and Kashmir as he has lived among them for a long time, and knows their pain as well… Those talking about holding dialogue with Pakistan should know that India enjoys good relations with every country except Islamabad which has bled J&K for the past 35 years by exporting terror,” Raina said.
He said training camps for terrorists are still active in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Pakistan, and in such a scenario, the policy of the Indian government is clear that gun and dialogue cannot go together.
“Those demanding dialogue with Pakistan should understand the pain of those who are the victims of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. They should meet them and ask whether we should hold dialogue with Pakistan and see their reaction,” the BJP leader said.
“We have to root out sense of Pakistan, separatism and terrorism, and in this direction, efforts should be intensified,” Raina said.
He said that “Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and nationalist Muslims had to flee their homes in the Valley in 1990 due to the Pakistani gun and migrate to different parts of the country”.
“We suggest the constitution of an apex committee to hold dialogue with the representatives of Kashmiri Pandits for their dignified return and rehabilitation in the valley. The Pandits are the ambassadors of the Indian nationalism,” Raina said.
He said the delegation also spoke about residents of Jammu and Kashmir who are living in areas under the illegal occupation of Pakistan. The government should pay special attention to them and become their voice as they are suffering the “worst kind” of human rights violations, Raina said.
Praising the Prime Minister, Raina said he understands the pain of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and is putting balm on their wounds ever since he came to power at the Centre.
Apni Party (AP) president Syed Altaf Bukhari pleaded for early hearing of Supreme Court (SC) on Article 370 and 35 A.
Bukhari said that Apni Party’s paramount demands have been the restoration of Statehood, early Assembly Elections, delimitation on merit and the Constitutional mechanism that protects the rights of residents of J&K on their land, jobs and natural resources besides expediting the hearing of the Supreme Court on Article 370 and 35-A. He also stressed on the need for the augmentation of infrastructure in Education, Health, Power, Jal Shakti, Tourism, Hospitality, Agriculture, Horticulture and Industrial sectors to boost the distressed economy in J&K.
“We adopted an honest political approach both in Delhi and J&K wherein we expressed our belief that only the two main forums in the country. Parliament and the Judiciary are the custodians of people’s constitutional rights and which were done away within Jammu and Kashmir unilaterally,” Bukhari said.
He expressed gratitude to the Prime Minister and Union Home Minister for addressing most of the demands including the reservation of jobs and protection of rights on landholdings of the residents of J&K put forth by the Apni Party during the last two years.
Bukhari said he stressed the urgent demands of the people calling for confidence-building political measures that will set in motion a genuine democratic exercise in Jammu and Kashmir.
He emphasized on fulfillment of the promises made by the country’s leadership on the floor of Parliament vis-a-vis the restoration of Statehood.
Nationalist Panthers Party (NPP) president Prof Bhim Singh appreciated the Prime Minister for calling all parties meeting and demanded immediate response by Parliament to convert itself into a Constituent Assembly to approve the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh on October 26, 1947 and accepted by Lord Mountbatten, the then Governor General of India.
Prof Bhim Singh called for fresh elections in J&K without any delay and restoration of Statehood.
People’s Conference Chairman Sajjad Ghani Lone told reporters outside he was quite confident that the meeting will help in delivering something good for Jammu and Kashmir.
CPM leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami is reported to have reiterated his party’s stand for immediate completion of delimitation exercise followed by Assembly elections to restore democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.

No mention of Pak, separatists in meeting

This was most probably for the first-time that there was no mention of Pakistan and, more significantly, the separatists, who once called the shots in Kashmir, at such a high-level meeting held on Jammu and Kashmir.
Political observers described the development as “good sign for Jammu and Kashmir”.
No political leader mentioned about Pakistan or separatists inside the meeting, sources said, adding that PDP president Mehbooba Mufti made a mention of talking to Pakistan at press briefing post-All Party Meeting and not inside, they said.
No political leader called for talks with separatists or taking them on board, they added.
A number of separatists or in the jails in connection with hawala or other rackets while those who are in Kashmir are lying low issuing no calls for strikes as used to be the case prior to August 5, 2019.

Baig interrupts Mehbooba

Once a noted leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Muzaffar Hussain Baig, former Deputy Chief Minister, today interrupted PDP chief and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in the meeting when she tried to rake up the restoration of Articles 370 and 35-A.
“This is contempt of the court,” Baig told Mehbooba saying the issue of abrogation of the two Articles has been challenged in the Supreme Court and the issue is pending there and, therefore, can’t be raked up in the meeting.
Baig, who is now in Sajjad Lone-led People’s Conference, told reporters later that the issue of Article 370 is pending before the Supreme Court and let the Apex Court decides about it.
“I pointed it out in the meeting, ” Baig, who was Finance Minister in PDP-Congress coalition Government headed by late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, said.
Describing the meeting as very satisfactory and friendly, Baig said all political parties demanded restoration of Statehood to Jammu and Kashmir.

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