SRINAGAR—Worst fears have come true. No statehood and no restoration of Article 370. The Centre committed to the overall development of Jammu and Kashmir in the all-party meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Thursday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said democracy’s biggest strength is the ability to sit across a table and exchange views.
“I told the leaders of J&K that it is the people, especially the youth who have to provide political leadership to J&K, and ensure their aspirations are duly fulfilled,” he said.
Prime Minister said their priority is to strengthen grassroots democracy in J&K. “Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and J&K gets an elected government that gives strength to J&K’s development trajectory. Today’s meeting with political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir is an important step in the ongoing efforts towards a developed and progressive J&K, where all-around growth is furthered,” he said.
Centre had invited 14 J&K leaders including former chief ministers for an All Party Meeting following which hectic deliberations took place within the political parties as well as People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a conglomerate of mainstream political parties comprising of NC, PDP, CPI (M), Jammu Kashmir Peoples Movement (JKPM), and Awami National Conference (ANC).
Those who participated in the meeting include National Conference (NC) president Dr. Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister G N Azad, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti, Peoples Conference (PC) Chairman Sajad Gani Lone, Jammu Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir, Apni Party president Syed Altaf Bukhari, CPI (M) senior leader Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami, Congress leader Tara Chand, BJP leaders Ravider Raina, Kavinder Gupta, and Nirmal Singh.
“We are committed to ensuring all-round development of Jammu and Kashmir. The future of Jammu and Kashmir was discussed and, delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in Parliament,” tweeted Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, after a marathon meeting.
All the postures of PAGD proved to be bluff and bluster. Article 370 is a passé, and Jammu and Kashmir is heading towards a new normal. An assembly with powers of a municipality, a chief minister who cannot even transfer a constable, and a minister who has powers of a councilor. This is a reality. This is a new normal.
“People of J&K are in a lot of difficulties since August 5, 2019. They are angry, upset, and emotionally shattered. They feel humiliated. I told PM that the people of J&K do not accept the manner in which Article 370 was abrogated. It was done unconstitutionally, illegally, and immorally,” said Mehbooba Mufti, PDP president.
The timing of all-party is crucial. Indo-Pak ceasefire is holding on the LOC. Security forces have openly stated that a truce has helped in improving the situation in Kashmir. For the last few months, security forces have been unable to kill foreign militants. Infiltration has dropped considerably. Plus Indo-Pak NSAs are in touch. Pakistan has toned down the rhetoric and called for the restoration of the pre-August 5, 2019 position in Jammu and Kashmir.
Restoring statehood to Jammu and Kashmir is a promise made on the floor of the Parliament. But no timeframe has been given. It can be today, tomorrow, or not in the near future. National Conference, People’s Conference, and other parties have challenged the Centre’s decision to scrap Article 370 in the Supreme Court. The matter is sub judice.
Power is gluing factor that binds people and parties. After losing power, PDP disintegrated like a pack of cards. Every prominent leader, swearing by PDP ideology and late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s vision, jumped ship for greener pastures. People’s Conference led by Sajad Lone, which was all bluster when it joined PAGD, parted ways soon after District Development Council polls.
National Conference was all bluster on Article 370. Soon after it was revoked on August 5, 2019, two MPs –Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi and Mohammad Akbar Lone – refused to resign from Parliament. It was felt that since their leaders Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah are in jail and they could not take this decision. Soon after Farooq was released, the first thing he did was to rush to New Delhi to attend the Parliament.
PDP is beset with internal problems. Mehbooba is facing cases and her close aide Waheed Para is in jail. Her maternal uncle Sartaj Madni signed a bond to earn freedom. Other leaders have withdrawn into a shell. Her brother Mufti Tasaduq who was parachuted on Kashmir and made tourism minister, vanished in thin air after PDP lost power. She is almost left alone. She does not want to risk the party anymore.
The other three political parties in PAGD do not have a postal address. So why risk the future? This mantra is holding them together. Everyone wants to have a piece of this pie. Nobody wants to be left out. Nobody wants others to grab their share.
Mehbooba might try to take a moral high ground by claiming that they will seek restoration of Article 370 and Article 35 A, but in the heart of hearts, she knows that it is not as easy as said. The fax fiasco is still fresh in people’s memory when despite having the support of 53 members, the assembly was dissolved. Example of assurances that special status will not be touched still plays in the minds of the people.
To jog the memory further, late Prime Minister PV Narishma Rao had once told Farooq Abdullah that the sky is the limit as far as Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy is concerned. Later, we all know that the autonomy resolution passed with a two-thirds majority was thrown into the trash bin by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government in which Omar Abdullah was the minister. Omar did not quit then and so no question about quitting now.
So what is cooking? Statehood, elections, delimitation, softening of cases, releasing political prisoners, or something else. No one knows. Not even the cabinet and not to talk of journalists. Those bragging and speculating in newspapers are just writing hearsay and newsroom gossip.
Delimitation is a priority for the Centre, not the statehood. Why should the Centre give away hard-earned success? Lieutenant Governor is the best bet for the Centre.
Under the Reorganization Act, 2019, the Union Territory of J&K will have an Assembly while Ladakh will not. Under the Act, the number of seats in the J&K Assembly would be increased from 107 to 114 after delimitation.
Delimitation Commission shall have three members –serving or retired judge of the Supreme Court as the chairperson, and the Chief Election Commissioner or Election Commissioner nominated by the CEC and the State Election Commissioner as ex-officio members.
In February last year, the then Chief Election Commissioner named Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra as his nominee to the Delimitation Commission. On March 6 last year, the Centre appointed former Supreme Court judge Justice (Retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai as head of the Commission.
Later in May 2020, Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla nominated three NC MPs —Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone, and Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi – as members of the Delimitation Commission.
In February this year, the Commission held its first meeting but National Conference did not participate. Mehbooba Mufti-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said they have no MP or MLA and therefore cannot participate in the exercise