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Polls, development to be key focus of Modi’s J&K all-party meet

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date
Polls, development to be key focus of Modi’s J&K all-party meet

New Delhi: A day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meet with political parties from Jammu & Kashmir, the Delimitation Commission secretariat on Wednesday held virtual discussions with all 20 deputy commissioners of the Union territory on details like physical, demographic and administrative issues concerning their respective districts.

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The government has invited 14 leaders from J&K, belonging to various political parties, for this meeting. Among the invitees are former chief ministers, deputy chief ministers and heads of mainstream political parties from J&K.

The particulars, drawn earlier by the DCs on the delimitation panel’s direction, is to be utilized for redrawing the assembly segments in J&K, which will see addition of seven new constituencies and delineating of ‘reserved’ constituencies.

Notably, the delimitation or redrawing of the assembly constituencies, is prerequisite for the conduct of assembly polls in the state: something which the authorities and the political class are looking forward to as they seek to kick the political process, already underway, into a higher gear: an objective which, along with speeding up of development, is expected to dominate the agenda of the meeting PM Modi will hold with representatives of parties from J&K on Thursday.

However, as per maximalist PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, the agenda of PM’s meeting is likely to focus on taking forward political participation, which started with holding of the first-ever district development council (DDC ) polls, by engaging with political leadership from the valley. “Return of statehood or restoration of Article 370 to its pristine form is not on the table,” stressed a source.

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In the words of J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha. “In politics, there should be constant dialogue….As I can understand, the PM’s meeting indicates faith in the democratic process and is meant to take it forward by involving the maximum number of people,” Sinha had told media in an interview on Monday.

Know what is expected in this high level political meet:

-It has been claimed that the government called this all-party meeting to “strengthen the political process” in the Union Territory. Though J&K has been downgraded to a UT, it still has a legislature.

To note, J&K has not had an elected government ever since the Mehbooba Mufti-led government fell in June 2018 after BJP walked out of the PDP-BJP alliance.

-Holding assembly election in J&K is likely to be one of the key issues that might be discussed during the all-party meeting on Thursday.

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-However, since the J&K has been bifurcated, it has to undergo a delimitation exercise in which boundaries of assembly constituencies will be redrawn and some new constituencies will be created.

-On Wednesday, the Election Commission (EC) of India held a meeting on the delimitation exercise in J&K. The meeting was held with 20 deputy commissioners from J&K. As per news agency, it discussed the administrative difficulties faced by deputy commissioners with respect to the assembly constituencies.

-To note, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 — that bifurcated the erstwhile state — raised the number of assembly constituencies in J&K from 107 to 114, including the 24 seats falling under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). In practice, the effective strength of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly when elected will increase from 83 to 90. There is a speculation that the government may opt to nominate 24 members to J&K Assembly as representatives of PoK. The meeting is also expected to touch upon this.

-The all-party meeting may also discuss the external factors that are likely to affect the future of J&K. Two such important issues are the withdrawal of the American forces from Afghanistan and the military situation with China in Ladakh.

-This all party meet will be attended by the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD). National Conference chief and head of the alliance Farooq Abdullah on Tuesday said the five constituent parties of PAGD will participate in the meeting with PM Modi.

-The Congress party, which walked out PAGD soon after its formation last year, too has decided to attend the all-party meeting. It will be represented by J&K Congress president GA Mir and former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. This decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

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-Former CM and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti has reached New Delhi for the meeting. Earlier in the week, she said she will raise the issue of restoration of J&K’s special status during the all-party meeting.

“The agenda of PADG, for which this alliance has been formed, what has been snatched away from us, we will talk on that, that it was a mistake and it was illegal and unconstitutional, without restoring which the issue of J&K (cannot be resolved) and the situation in J&K (cannot improve) and peace in the whole region cannot be restored,” she said.

Sources said the all-party meeting will offer a sounding board for the mainstream political leaders of J&K to put across their views on issues they consider important. At the same time, the progress made by J&K administration after the abrogation of Article 370, on fronts like development, security, social security and Covid management, is likely to be shared.

Meanwhile, the delimitation panel – through senior EC officials who offer it secretarial assistance – held two different sessions on Wednesday with 10 DCs each from Jammu and Kashmir region, to discuss the data regarding the topography, demography and administrative challenges of their respective districts. “The idea is to use this data to create compact constituencies in terms of geography, accessibility and connectivity,” said an officer.

This is the first such political exercise after August 5, 2019 when the Centre decided to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution that gave J&K a special status. Apart from this, the Centre also reduced J&K’s status from a state to a UT and bifurcated it.

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