The onus rests on PM Modi to build trust with J&K’s political forces

Jun 21, 2021 12:36 PM IST

The June 24 invite is an olive branch of sorts but it comes at a time when the trust deficit between J&K and New Delhi is at its lowest. Can Mufti and the Abdullahs trust the government of India again?

When Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and Kashmir’s mainstream politicians come face to face at the all-party meeting scheduled for June 24, it is likely to be an uncomfortable encounter. After all, Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar, and Mehbooba Mufti, didn’t have a clue about what would eventually happen in August 2019.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PTI) PREMIUM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PTI)

The Abdullahs met Modi a few days before sweeping changes altered the political fortunes of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Recalling the meeting a year later, Omar Abdullah, in a signed piece for The Indian Express, wrote, “It’s not a meeting I will forget in a hurry. One day I may write about it but propriety precludes me from saying more than that we left the meeting with a completely different impression about what was going to unfold in the next 72 hours. In one fell swoop, everything we had feared came to pass.” Mufti, who went against her political instinct to ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was dumped unceremoniously in June 2018. And for almost a year, all three former chief ministers were incarcerated under the Public Safety Act, seen as enemies of the State and accused of frivolous crimes.

The National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have not formally accepted the invite to the all-party meeting, but all of this will weigh heavily on their mind. So will the knowledge that their own constituents saw them as traitors for previously allying with the BJP. All three were blamed for the dramatic events of August 2019 that not only saw the state being cleaved into two Union Territories (UTs) but also the valley being put under an unprecedented lockdown.

Also Read | ‘J&K not a real estate’: Chidambaram reiterates Cong demand for full statehood

The June 24 invite is an olive branch of sorts but it comes at a time when the trust deficit between J&K and New Delhi is at its lowest. Can Mufti and the Abdullahs trust the government of India again?

The invite acknowledges the fact that New Delhi needs the regional leaders to restart a political process, and that they are still in a position to be able to reach out to voters. This is an obvious derivation from last year’s district development council elections. Several parties including the NC and the PDP came together as the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), to contest and win a majority of the seats.

But will PAGD help New Delhi in moving forward, if an election in the UT is the sole aim behind the PM’s invite? The unequivocal answer is, No. The NC and the PDP cannot afford to be seen to be supping with the government in Delhi, if the talks don’t include the restoration of J&K’s statehood, a promise that has been made by home minister Amit Shah. There are also pleas in the Supreme Court, seeking the restoration of Article 370. For the BJP, there is no question of the law being reversed but the NC and PDP would at least like to see the petitions being taken out of cold storage for an early hearing. J&K’s leaders have also been accused of financial impropriety, and view the notices from central investigative agencies as instruments of undue pressure.

Modi and his government have their own set of reasons for holding out the olive branch. President Joe Biden’s administration has openly called for normalcy to be restored in J&K and the volatile region can’t perpetually be in a state of political limbo. Not when there is a tentative ceasefire on the Line of Control and the need for a 24x7 vigil on the China front.

The all-party meeting can be the thaw that J&K sorely needs, but for it to succeed, Modi has to be prepared to give more than he expects in return. The onus of repairing the trust deficit lies with him. If he understands the need to reach out to the sullen population – even Jammuites are not happy with the scrapping of the special status and the possibility of outsiders buying their land – the all-party meeting can be the window of opportunity. It is that moment when the deadlock can be broken.

The views expressed are personal

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    Harinder Baweja anchors special projects for Hindustan Times. She has been a journalist for three decades and has focussed on covering conflict zones, including Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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