File photo: Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (ANI)
File photo: Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (ANI)

J&K leaders express willingness to engage as Modi is expected to hold all-party meeting

The meeting will be the first such political engagement since the Centre stripped Jammu & Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status in August 2019.
UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2021 12:10 PM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to hold an all-party meeting on Jammu & Kashmir next week, an official in his office said and added the schedule for the first such political engagement since the Centre stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status has been tentatively fixed.

A second official said the government was keen to restart the democratic process in the region, which has been without an elected government since June 2018. The official added there has been an effort to speak to public representatives and have them participate in the process almost two years after Jammu & Kashmir’s constitutional status was changed in August 2019. The erstwhile state was also split into two Union territories.

Officials said the local parties have agreed informally to participate and after they come to Delhi to meet Modi next week, some announcement is expected.

The first major electoral exercise--District Development Council polls--was held in the region as part of efforts to restart political activities in Jammu & Kashmir last year. All major political parties participated in the exercise. The parties have also shown willingness to engage with the Centre.

The National Conference (NC)--Jammu & Kashmir’s oldest party and the architect of the special status--has said it was reconsidering its position on boycotting such meetings till the region’s special status and statehood was restored

HT has learnt that the region’s political parties may also agree to participate in the Delimitation Commission proceedings. The commission was set up in March 2020 to redraw the constituencies of Jammu & Kashmir before the next assembly elections are held. The last elected government in the region fell in June 2018 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-led government.

Mufti and two other former chief ministers were among hundreds of people arrested in the run-up to the nullification of the Constitution’s Article 370 that stripped Jammu & Kashmir of its special status. A communications blackout and a lockdown were also imposed to stem protests against the move. All the restrictions have since been removed.

Suhail Bukhari, a spokesperson for PDP, said Mufti has been called for Modi’s meeting informally. “It is an informal invitation and hopefully the party will also receive a formal invitation,” he said.

NC spokesman Imran Nabi said he was aware of an invitation extended to his party but added the ice was breaking. “We (NC) have not changed our stance... but the party has always been open to dialogue.”

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Altaf Bukhari, the chief of the Apni Party formed after the changes to the region’s constitutional status, said he has not been invited for any proposed meeting even as he underlined dialogue is the only way forward. “It is a welcome step if Prime Minister Modi is meeting Jammu & Kashmir leadership. We have been demanding restoration of statehood, job and land reservation for the locals from day one and we are hopeful of getting all these things through a democratic process,” said Bukhari, who met Modi last year.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said he has not got an invite yet. He added he was unaware whether any of the constituents of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a grouping of parties including the NC and PDP, has been invited.

The leaders of PADG, which was formed last year for the restoration of Jammu & Kashmir’s special status, have been hinting that their doors are open for any dialogue.

Congress leader Ghulam Ahmad Mir said only dialogue can resolve issues related to Jammu & Kashmir, which is currently in mess. “Congress has always championed dialogue and for that, all sides have to show the flexibility. There is unofficial communication going between the Centre and certain Kashmiri leaders. Dialogue is always welcome.”

People aware of the matter said former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad has also been informed about the meeting in New Delhi.

Former minister Sajad Lone-led Peoples Conference spokesman Adnan Ashraf said that they have not been invited to the meeting. “We have never been averse to any dialogue on Kashmir. The dialogue is a welcome step.”

BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur said that if the invitations are extended, it is a welcome step. “This is a process for holding conducive elections either by the end of this year or earlier next year. If the roundtable conference will be held, our state leaders will be there, and it is a good step.”

A meeting Union home minister Amit Shah chaired in Delhi on Friday is seen to have been part of the preparations for the all-party meet even as the agenda for it was developmental issues and the current situation in Jammu & Kashmir.

Jammu & Kashmir lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and other top officials attended Shah’s meeting on Friday.

In a statement, the home ministry said Shah called all-around development and welfare of people of Jammu & Kashmir the government’s top priority.

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