Holding elections priority, PM Modi tells J&K leaders at all-party meet

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday held over three-hour-long discussions with 14 political leaders from Jammu & Kashmir to chalk out the future course of action in the erstwhile state.
The crucial meeting, the first such outreach by the government since the abrogation of J&K’s special status in August 2019, was also attended by Union home minister Amit Shah, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha.


While the PM said the Centre is committed to democratic process in the Union Territory, the J&K leaders demanded immediate restoration of statehood.


‘Elections can happen soon after delimitation’
Giving details about the discussions, the government sources said that PM Modi patiently heard out suggestions and inputs from all participants and expressed happiness that everyone shared their frank and honest views.


The sources said that it was discussed that elections in J&K can happen soon after the delimitation process and that most of the participants expressed willingness for it.


“It was an open discussion which revolved around building a better future for Kashmir,” they said.
Sources said the main focus of the meeting was to strengthen the democratic process.


“PM Modi said that we are fully committed to the democratic process in J&K. He stressed that the holding assembly elections just like the successful conduct of DDC elections is a priority,” they said.

                                      
“PM said that he wants to remove Dilli ki Duri as well as Dil Ki Duri,” the sources said.
PM said that even one death in J&K is painful and it is our collective duty to protect our younger generation.


‘Scrapping of Article 370 unacceptable’
National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah said that his party told PM Modi that the trust between the Centre and state was broken with the scrapping of Article 370.


Speaking about the meeting, the junior Abdullah told reporters that whatever happened in August 2019 is not acceptable and his party will fight the issue in the court.


NC chief Farooq Abdullah said that restoration of the statehood would be the first trust-building exercise from the Centre’s side.
Echoing the NC view, PDP chief and former CM Mehbooba Mufti said that the “unconstitutional and illegal” scrapping of Article 370 is not acceptable to the people of J&K.


“People of J&K are angry and humiliated since August 2019 … we will constitutionally, democratically and peacefully struggle for the restoration of special status, which was granted to us by former PM Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel,” she said.
She said that if the removal of Article 370 was part of the Modi government’s agenda, the Centre should have at least convened the J&K assembly instead of doing it in an “illegal manner”.
We want to restore it (special status) constitutionally and legally, she said.


J&K Apni Party leader Altaf Bukhari said that PM Modi assured the leaders during the meeting that the election process in the Union Territory will begin once the delimitation exercise concludes.
“The talks were held in a good atmosphere today. The Prime Minister heard our issues of all leaders. PM said that election process will begin when delimitation process finishes,” Bukhari told reporters after the meeting.


Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters after the meeting that his party raised five key demands during the discussions.


These included restoration of J&K’s statehood, holding assembly elections, a guarantee on domicile and job rules, rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits and release of political prisoners under detention since August 5, 2019.


People’s Conference leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig said that PM Modi “carefully” listened to the issues raised by the J&K leaders, adding that all of them demanded the restoration of statehood.
“PM Modi assured that he will do everything to make Jammu and Kashmir a zone of peace rather than conflict,” Baig said.
Officials said the Centre is keen on holding assembly elections in the union territory as early as possible, maybe in December this year or March 2022 after the Delimitation Commission headed by Justice (retd) Ranjana Desai completes its task of redrawing constituencies in the next few months.
The Commission was granted one year’s extension in March this year.


The meeting seems to be the result of the back-channel talks held with all the parties from the union territory to chart out a roadmap.
The Union home minister, while tabling the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019 in Parliament, had given an assurance that the Centre would grant full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir at an appropriate time.


Today’s dialogue comes seven months after the District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
The four former chief ministers of the erstwhile state who participated in the discussions were Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti.


CPM leader Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami, Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) chief Altaf Bukhari, Sajjad Lone of the People’s Conference, J&K Congress head G A Mir, BJP’s Ravinder Raina and Panthers Party leader Bhim Singh also formed part of the delegation.

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