Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir's mainstream political leaders are being invited for talks by the Centre next week. The move is seen by political watchers here as the first post-August 2019 major attempt by the Narendra Modi government to end the political stalemate in the erstwhile state.
J&K was pushed into a great deal of political variability on August 5, 2019 when the Centre stripped the state of its special constitutional status and split it up into two Union territories. Barring BJP, its mainstream political leadership refused to accept what it termed as illegal and unconstitutional abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A and the bifurcation of the state. They also found it hard to reconcile to the ballgame set off by the contentious move, particularly the series of new laws introduced subsequently by New Delhi which only further diluted the state's powers.
But it appears J&K’s mainstream leadership has in an apparent strategic flexibility or change of strategy decided to move away from the path of confrontation and fight on the issues including restoration of the erstwhile state's constitutional status in the existing system. This became evident last week when People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an alliance of J&K's regional opposition parties and their allies from the national Left parties, after its leaders met here, announced that they would seize “even the smallest opportunity” in their just fight for the rights of the people of all the three regions of J&K -Jammu, the Valley and Ladakh.
Reports emanating from Delhi suggest the Union government is willing to restore the statehood of J&K ahead of holding the Assembly elections sometime later early 2022.
The BJP and its government are, however, keen to hold these elections after the restructuring of J&K’s Assembly constituencies. The Delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir was constituted by the Centre on March 6, 2020 to redraw Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies of the Union Territory. The commission headed by Justice (retired) Ranjana Desai is likely to submit its report to the government before its extended one-year term comes to end on March 5, 2022.
Former chief minister and leader of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mehbooba Mufti, confirmed that she has received an invitation for the talks slated to be held in New Delhi on June 24. “Yes, I got a phone call from Delhi, and I have been invited for a meeting on June 24. The meeting will be chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” she told a local news agency KNO. She, however, added, “I haven’t decided yet whether to attend the meet or not.” She feigned ignorance about other mainstream leaders too being invited to talks.
PAGD president and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah said that his National Conference party’s core group will first sit to discuss how to respond if a formal invitation from the Centre comes and evolve a ‘strategy’ for such an engagement ‘keeping the interests of the J&K people above everything else'. He said, “So far, we haven’t received any formal invite from New Delhi for talks. If we do get it, we will first sit and discuss the strategy to be adopted for the meeting”.
Former minister in the PDP-BJP government and J&K Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari said that the solution to J&K’s problems lies with New Delhi. “We openly state that we have a relationship with Delhi. Solutions to J&K’s problems lie at New Delhi, not Islamabad, New York or London. Delhi’s invitation to J&K’s political parties is a welcome development”.
It is now officially confirmed that Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla has formally invited 14 J&K mainstream leaders to the meeting at the Prime Minister's residence. The invitees include former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, former deputy chief ministers Tara Chand (Congress), Muzaffar Hussain Baig (People’s Conference) and Nirmal Singh and Kavinder Gupta (BJP), CPI(M) leader Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, J&K Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari, People’s Conference chairman Sajjad Gani Lone, JKPCC chief Gulam Ahmad Mir, his counterpart from BJP Ravinder Raina and National Panthers Party supremo Prof Bhim Singh.