New Delhi: During the high level all party meet with Jammu and Kashmir’s political leaders yesterday on June 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined the Centre’s commitment to the installation of a duly elected government in the valley and urged the leaders to fully support quick delimitation of constituencies so that early polls could take place in the Union territory.
Notably, this was his first meeting with leaders from Kashmir since August 2019 when his government scraped its special status assured to it through Article 370 and approved its reorganisation into a UT, the 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.”
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. pic.twitter.com/AEyVGQ1NGy
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 24, 2021
In the high octane meet, he made a pointed reference that corruption-free governance was increasing the faith of people in the government. While the administration left no doubt as to early assembly elections being its priority, representatives of key players from the Valley — the National Conference, PDP and Apni Party —did not insist on restoration of statehood as a precondition for their participation. The discussions went on for close to three and a half hours.
The government had invited 14 leaders from J&K, belonging to various political parties, for this meeting. The meeting was held against the backdrop of rampant expectation in certain quarters that the government might commit itself to early redemption of its promise to restore the UT to a state. But while home minister Amit Shah, in response to insistence from the NC, PDP and Congress, did reiterate the Centre’s commitment to upgrade the UT, he made it clear that the immediate priority was early holding of polls after the delimitation commission had wrapped up the exercise to redraw the boundaries of assembly constituencies. The commission is scheduled to hold a meeting with representatives of political parties and MPs shortly.
Expressing his wish to remove “Dilli ki doori” (distance between Centre and J&K) as well as “Dil ki doori” (distrust), Modi said his government was fully committed to taking forward the democratic process in J&K against the backdrop of a three-tier panchayati raj system which is in place for the first time in the UT.
Conduct of assembly polls, just like the DDC polls, was a priority, he added. Though the Centre’s action to nullify Article 370 was criticised, it was not a sticking point or a faultine in the discussions. Most leaders called for restoration of statehood, but did not insist on it being a prerequisite for holding polls or their participation in it.
It was felt that the decision to do away with J&K’s special status was before the SC and should be settled there. Later, Mufti said, “We told the PM that Article 370 should be restored as it was given to us by India and not Pakistan. It was PM Nehru who had given special status to J&K. This secures our identity, the security of land and jobs and this has to be restored.”
But she added this would be a constitutional and peaceful struggle. Apni Party’s Hussain said, “We demanded statehood and the PM assured that as soon as the delimitation exercise is over, polls will be announced. Shah assured all for restoration of statehood.”
However, indicating that statehood may follow only after installation of an elected government in J&K, home minister Amit Shah tweeted after the meeting, “Delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in Parliament.”
Shah gave an overview of development, transparency and people-centric initiatives undertaken in J&K since abrogation of Article 370. He said 90% saturation in central schemes had been achieved; road projects, seven new medical colleges set up; and a new Rs 28,400 crore industrial policy notified with the proposed creation of 4.5 lakh jobs.
He also said the Centre was focused on further empowering the local elected bodies.