Tribune News Service
New Delhi, June 24
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday told a group of leaders from Jammu and Kashmir that the Assembly elections there will be held after the completion of the ongoing delimitation exercise, People’s Conference leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig said after a crucial meeting to chalk out the future course of action in the Union Territory.
During the three-and-a-half-hour-long meeting, almost all the 14 leaders from Jammu and Kashmir demanded that its statehood, which was removed in August 2019, should be restored, he said.
According to official sources, the main focus of the meeting was to strengthen the democratic process and the Prime Minister said that the government was “fully committed” to it.
This is the first interaction between the Central leadership and the mainstream parties since August 5, 2019, when the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated it into union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Modi stressed that holding Assembly elections, just like the successful conduct of the District Development Council polls, is a priority and that the polls can happen soon after the delimitation exercise, the sources said, adding that by and large most participants expressed willingness for it.
The Prime Minister stressed that an atmosphere of safety and security needs to be ensured for all sections of society in Jammu and Kashmir and he wanted to remove ‘Dilli ki Duri as well as ‘Dil Ki Duri’ (distance from Delhi as well as distance of heart), according to the sources.
“The meeting was very cordial and very positive, very dignified. We all agreed that we must work for the democracy. The prime minister has assured that he will do everything to make Jammu and Kashmir a zone of peace rather than a zone of conflict,” Baig told reporters after the meeting.
Baig said the government side conveyed that the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir will be held after the completion of the ongoing delimitation process.
“We were conveyed that the delimitation process will be completed first and thereafter a call will be taken on holding the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
However, he said, no time frame has been given on holding the polls.
“Almost everyone at meeting raised the demand for restoration of statehood of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said, adding the prime minister carefully listened to every issue raised by the political leaders.
Earlier, fourteen leaders of mainstream J-K mainstream parties arrived at the PM’s residence to attend the meeting with everyone having welcomed the resumption of talks—the first outreach by the Centre since the Abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the erstwhile state into the UTs of JK and Ladakh.
The meeting had no specific agenda, with leaders free to raise what they want.
Before entering the meeting, Chairman of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration and National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah again hailed the PM’s initiative and distanced himself from PDP president Mehbooba Mufti’s remarks that the Centre should also talk to Pakistan for the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
“I don’t want to talk about Pakistan. I will talk to my own Prime Minister,” Abdullah said when asked what he thought of Mufti’s remarks being her ally in the PAGD.
Abdullah said Mufti has her agenda and party and he, in the NC, had his separate agenda.
“The meeting is a very welcome step, much needed for easing tensions in JK. We are going with an open mind,” he said.
The meeting is being attended by four former CMs Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti; four former JK deputy CMs Nirmal Singh, Kavinder Gupta, Tara Chand, Muzaffar Baig present along with chiefs of mainstream JK parties including state Congress president GA Mir, BJP state chief Ravinder Raina, JK Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh, Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari, People’s Conference chief Sajjad Lone.
The Congress and PAGD have sought restoration of JK statehood ahead of the meeting with Abdullah saying the alliance would disclose what it raised once the meeting concluded.
The government meanwhile is expected to hear all parties first and then impress upon the critical importance of the ongoing delimitation in JK.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said during the last Parliament session that the election in JK will be held once the
The delimitation exercise is over and the EC declares elections.
On statehood, Home Minister Amit Shah has said it will be restored at an appropriate time.
Kashmir parties have been wary of the delimitation and feel it’s an attempt to alter the demography of the area and undermine the significance of the Valley in the overall electoral process.
NC had boycotted the first meet of the delimitation commission in February this year saying it cannot participate in the exercise that flows from the JK Reorganisation Act which it has challenged in the apex court.
Twenty-two petitions against the law (passed by Parliament on August 5, 2019 bifurcating the state and abrogating special status) are pending hearing before a Constitution Bench of the SC. — with PTI