‘Unconstitutional’ Revocation of Special Status, Loss of Statehood Raised in Meeting With Modi

Prime minister and home minister tell J&K leaders their priority is speedy delimitation of constituencies followed by elections.

Srinagar: Refusing to back down, the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on Tuesday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revoke the “unconstitutional and immoral” move of reading down the special status of J&K.

“This decision is not acceptable to the people of J&K. I told the prime minister that if the government removed it [the special status] illegally, my party will fight democratically and constitutionally for restoring it,” Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of the erstwhile state and vice-president of the Gupkar alliance, said.

“Article 370 was not given to us by Pakistan. It was incorporated into the Constitution by Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Whether it takes months or years, we will strive to get it back,” Mufti, who heads the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said.

Mufti was among 14 political leaders from J&K, including four former chief ministers and other senior leaders, invited to the all-party meeting chaired by the prime minister.

The meeting, which lasted for nearly four hours, in the national capital concluded along expected lines with the Central government reaffirming its commitment for the restoration of statehood to J&K.

Ahead of the meeting, Union home minister Amit Shah and national security advisor Ajit Doval had an hour-long meeting with Modi at his Race Course residence.

Briefing the media, senior Congress leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said his party raised five issues concerning J&K during the all-party meeting. He said the Centre must restore J&K’s statehood and hold assembly elections at the earliest for “strengthening democracy”.

“The BDC [block development council] and DDC [district development council] elections have been held. There is peace in Kashmir and ceasefire on the border. The home minister has committed [to the restoration of J&K’s statehood] on the floor of the House. The time has come,” he said.

Seeking safeguards for J&K locals, Azad said the domicile rules of J&K which date back to 1925 must be restored along with the exclusive rights of state subjects in government employment.

“Besides, the government must list out a comprehensive policy for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri pandits,” he said.

Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of the erstwhile state, told reporters that his party, National Conference, believes that the August 5, 2019 decision was “against the interests of J&K”. “But we won’t take laws into our hands. We will fight the battle for (Article 370 restoration) legally,” he said.

Also read: Modi and Shah’s Humiliating Walk Back on Kashmir Is Proof of Their Failed Policy

What did the leaders say

According to sources, the prime minister is believed to have urged the political parties of J&K to participate in the delimitation exercise “at the earliest” which will set the stage for holding assembly elections in the union territory.

The Delimitation Commission has been set up to redraw the assembly constituencies and increase their numbers from the present 107 to 114. Political parties in J&K suspect that the exercise would be used to alter the unique demographic balance of the union territory.

Putting the ball back into the Central government’s court, Omar said that “singling out” J&K for the delimitation exercise has created a “lot of suspicion” among the people.

“Most speakers were unhappy over singling out J&K for delimitation. The [delimitation] commission was set up for Assam also but it has stopped functioning there. Why not in J&K?” he asked.

Omar said the “trust deficit” between J&K and New Delhi has grown in the past 22 months since the Article 370 was read down and it was the responsibility of the Central government to take steps for bridging this gulf.

The former J&K chief minister said Modi assured them that the issue of “Dil Ki Doori” between the political leadership of J&K and the Central government as well as “Dilli Ki Doori” from Kashmir will be addressed.

“Making J&K a union territory is not acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir region. We want complete statehood with the restoration of independent cadre for J&K,” Omar said.

Altaf Bukhari, president of J&K Apni Party, said the speakers were “very polite with each other”. “There was complete unanimity on the restoration of peace in J&K. We all agreed to work together despite political differences,” he said.

Mehbooba said she complimented the prime minister for opening dialogue with Pakistan during which they reaffirmed their commitment for respecting the 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control and International Border with Pakistan.

“The government must open all the trade routes of Kashmir which provided employment to hundreds of people. What is stopping the government from talking [to Pakistan] again if it brings peace and prosperity to J&K?” she asked, while demanding the government to release the political prisoners.

Azad, who was flanked by Mir and senior Congress leader and former J&K deputy chief minister Tara Chand, said the Central government must also release the political prisoners.

“The fears that something might happen [in J&K] if they are released [are misplaced]. They should be released at the earliest,” Azad said.

Spurt in violence

The all-party meeting took place amid a sudden spike in violence against security forces in Kashmir, prompting a 48-hour high alert. The month of June has been the deadliest for forces with at least four police personnel shot dead in audacious, daylight attacks by suspected militants.

Also read: After Three Years of Central Rule in Kashmir, the Ground Situation Is No Better

An inspector with J&K’s intelligence wing was shot dead near his home in Srinagar on June 22, five days after an off-duty policeman was shot and killed in a similar attack in another part of the city.

Director general of police Dilbag Singh told a press conference that there is a “good number” of foreign militants in J&K. Security forces have also been asked to “revise the strategy” as militants were looking for soft targets.

Ahead of the meeting, protests had erupted in several parts of the BJP bastion Jammu against Mufti, where demonstrators burnt an effigy of the former chief minister while shouting anti-Pakistan slogans.

National Conference president Farooq Abdullah said the political leaders participated in the meeting with the hope that the prime minister and home minister would “come up with a solution for restoring peace” in J&K.

“Dialogue is crucial to end tension in J&K. The all-party meeting has taken place and it is better late than never,” he said.

Asked about PDP chief Mufti’s reported remarks that the Central government should engage with Pakistan, Farooq said: “She made those remarks in individual capacity. She was speaking for her party. They have their own agenda and we have our own agenda.”

“I don’t want to talk about Pakistan. I am talking to my nation and to the prime minister of my nation,”

“If India can talk to the Taliban in Doha (Qatar), why not Pakistan,” Mehbooba had said earlier.

P.K. Mishra, principal secretary to the prime minister, and Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla were present in the meeting as well.

Modi said delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can take place. “Our 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,” Modi said in a tweet.

Shah said delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood. “We are committed to ensure all round development of J&K… the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in parliament,” Shah tweeted.