The Central Government has called a meeting of all the regional political parties of Jammu and Kashmir. Various media reports confirmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to chair a meeting with all political parties from the Union Territory on 24 June. The meeting is also likely to be attended by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other central leaders.
Why is the all-party meet relevant?
This is the first such exercise since the Centre announced the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir's special status and its bifurcation into Union territories in August 2019.
By calling all stakeholders for a sit-down, the Central Government, Saturday extended an olive branch to Jammu and Kashmir's regional parties, including those whose leaders were held captive for months in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370.
The invitees to the meet include prominent Kashmiri politicians and members of the Gupkar Alliance, including National Conference (NC) chief Farooq Abdullah, PDP chairperson Mehbooba Mufti, Altaf Bukhari of the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP), and People's Conference head Sajjad Lone, the officials told PTI.
What is the agenda for the meet?
Although the news is yet to come through official channels of the Prime Minister's Office, PTI quoted official sources to claim that the meeting was part of the Centre's initiatives to bolster political processes (read holding elections) in the Union Territory.
Another possible area of discussion could be the development in the hilly region which has been paralysed by decades of militancy and frequent floods, every monsoon.
This especially rings true as the meeting comes in the backdrop of Shah's virtual meet with the state administration on Friday, where he reviewed various development projects and the status of central government schemes in the Union Territory. He said all-around development and welfare of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is the top priority of the Modi government.
What is the meeting's significance for J&K politics?
The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was placed under President's Rule after the BJP ended its alliance with Mehbooba Mufti in June 2018. There has been no political process since then, barring the local body polls " the Block Development Council polls in October and the District Development Council polls in December 2020.
Dialogue between Valley's mainstream politicians and New Delhi have all but remained frozen in the wake of their unceremonious arrests and prolonged detention after the August 2019 decision.
As a result, the political mainstream of the region, especially those having a strong base in Kashmir Valley, have been critical of successive administrations of the Union Territory for neglecting the demands of the people and raising questions on the development slogan raised post-August 2019.
Furthermore, there have been calls by regional leadership to 'boycott polls' in the past, until the statehood of the Union Territory is restored. This could be dangerous for fragile peace in the Valley as the absence of mainstream leaders can open the field for extremist elements.
The BJP leadership's acerbic comments against the Valley's politicians have not helped the relationship either. BJP top brass has been calling Kashmiri leaders 'anti-nationals' and has dubbed their alliance as 'Gupkar gang'.
A democratic sit-down at such a time can help reforge a working relationship between the Valley's leadership and the Centre.
How were the previous polling exercises in J&K?
The local parties, many of whom have now come under a loose umbrella alliance called the People's Alliance for the Gupkar Declaration or Gupkar Alliance, boycotted the Block Development Council (BDC) polls to oppose the abrogation of Article 370 and alleged malpractices in the District Development Council (DDC) polls claiming that their candidates were not allowed to campaign freely.
However, notwithstanding their claims, the people of Jammu and Kashmir including those in Kashmir Valley surprised everyone by participating in large numbers in both the polls.
In BDC polls, the final voter turnout in most districts of the 22 districts in Jammu and Kashmir was above 95 percent with the maximum in Srinagar, where a 100 percent turnout was registered. At least 51 percent of people came out to vote in the DDC polls.
These DDC elections, which were fought on local issues like water, electricity and road, were swept by the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration candidates and the BJP in Jammu.
In the BDC elections, despite being the only major political party in the fray, the BJP managed to win just 81 seats while Independent candidates bagged 217 blocks.
How has Valley's leadership reacted to the development?
Mehbooba told PTI on Friday night that she had received a call from the Centre for a meeting on 24 June. "I am yet to make a decision. I will discuss with my party members and take a final call," she said.
Farooq told ANI that he too has received an invitation from the Central Government, however, he has not made his stand clear yet.
Both Farooq and Mehbooba had served as chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Asked about the prospect of talks with the Centre, MY Tarigami, CPM leader and spokesperson of the Gupkar Alliance, told the Times of India that the "regional, as well as the national Opposition parties, will certainly participate in the all-party meeting, provided the agenda is in line with the demand of restoration of pre-5 August, 2019, status of Jammu and Kashmir".
"We have never closed our doors for meaningful engagement with the Centre," Tarigami had earlier told PTI.
JKAP president Bukhari said, "I welcome, if and when, the talks take place. This vindicates our position of March 2020 when we had made it clear that dialogue is the only mechanism to restore democracy and statehood for Jammu and Kashmir."
"Better late than never as the solution to all our problems lies with New Delhi and nowhere else," he added.
The Jammu and Kashmir units of the BJP and the Congress are also likely to be part of these discussions, which are being seen as part of efforts to strengthen normal political processes in the Union Territory.
The officials said the delimitation commission under the leadership of Justice (retd) Ranjana Desai, which was set up immediately after the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in Parliament, is likely to expedite its work and submit its report. The commission was set up in February 2020 and has been given an extension of one year in March this year.
Barring Bukhari, other leaders have served a spell of detention following the August 2019 decision of the Centre to abrogate the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the erstwhile state into union territories " Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
In the District development Council election last year, the PAGD surged way ahead of the BJP and its allies, including the JKAP, by bagging 110 seats out of 280 with the National Conference emerging stronger with 67 seats within the alliance. The BJP was the single largest party with 75 seats.
With inputs from PTI