Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold high-stakes talks with parties from Jammu and Kashmir in New Delhi on Thursday, a politically significant move that seeks to resume engagement between the Centre and the Valley’s leadership 22 months after the region lost its statehood and special status.
The meeting, which could determine how the dynamics at play in Jammu and Kashmir could shape up in the coming days, has been in the news over its likely agenda. Will there be discussions on restoring Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood? What about the ongoing delimitation process or the pending elections? The debate has begun.
Firstpost gives you the lowdown of the situation ahead of the talks in the National Capital this afternoon.
Why does it matter? There is a lot to the story. The meeting comes at a time when a delimitation commission is on the job. It is expected to take a call on redrawing the boundaries of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, which is now a Union Territory with a legislative Assembly. Speculation is rife that the exercise, which has become contentious, could be the precursor to Assembly elections that have been pending for long.
The meeting is also significant in the backdrop of the Centre’s August 2019 move to nullify Article 370 that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir; the government also split the state into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh (the latter without a legislative Assembly). The Valley’s leadership has opposed the changes and demanded the restoration of Article 370 and Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood.
- The delimitation commission, which was set up early 2020, has landed at the centre of a debate with critics arguing that the exercise could lead to an increase in seats in the Jammu region, where the Centre’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a strong presence.
- Leaders in the Valley have opposed the exercise, challenging the constitutional validity of the act that bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir and that becomes relevant in the process. However, government sources have indicated there will not be any major changes in the basic geography of Jammu and Kashmir.
- After delimitation, comes the debate on elections. Jammu and Kashmir has been under Central rule since 2018, when the ruling alliance of the BJP and Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) collapsed.
- While local elections have been held in the Valley after the Article 370 move, an Assembly election would be a significant step in the normalisation of political activities there.
Is that all? Not exactly. For watchers are looking at all these developments in the context of the Article 370 move.
- After the Centre withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and split it into two UTs, several political leaders and activists were placed under detention.
- Mufti, two other former chief ministers — Omar and Farooq Abdullah — and several others have been released since. In such a backdrop, the meeting could act as an exercise that would iron out trust issues.
- After their release, Mufti, the Abdullahs and others formed a political grouping — which even fought a local election unitedly in December — demanding the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood and special status. It would be interesting to see if there are discussions on these subjects.
So are these issues on the agenda? There has been no official word on the agenda. CNN-News18 has reported that the government could be considering granting Jammu and Kashmir statehood, as promised by Modi and home minister Amit Shah in the past, but there will be no talk on restoring Article 370, a temporary provision of the Constitution.
- But what we know is that the National Conference (NC)’s Farooq Abdullah has said “we can talk on any issue” — which is a welcome sign. His Gupkar grouping (the bloc formed by him, Mufti and others) has decided to attend the meeting.
- The bloc would also demand the release of political detainees as well as of those Jammu and Kashmir residents in jails in other parts of the country.
Who all will attend? Fourteen leaders have been invited for the crucial talks. And all of them will attend it.
• Four are former chief ministers (CMs): Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar (NC), Mehbooba Mufti (PDP) and Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress).
• Four are former deputy CMs: Muzaffar Hussain Baig (J&K People’s Conference), Tara Chand (Congress), Nirmal Singh and Kavinder Gupta (BJP).
• Six are state party chiefs: Sajjad Lone (J&K People’s Conference), Altaf Bukari (J&K Apni Party), Ravinder Raina (BJP), GA Mir (Congress), Bhim Singh (Panthers Party) and MY Tarigami (Communist Party of India-Marxist).
• National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who has strategised for months to make this meeting happen, too, will be in attendance.
Big picture: The meeting is a confidence-building measure — and the “beginning of a process”, as government sources told CNN-News18 — that could have a lasting impact on Jammu and Kashmir’s polity, with residents hoping to return to normalcy through the tricky corridors of geopolitical complicacies.
If there are productive discussions and forward movement on any or all the issues mentioned above, it could go down in history as a milestone — one that marked the commencement of a journey towards peace and development in a restive region struck by militancy and political instability.