Srinagar: The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a coalition of parties chaired by former Union minister Farooq Abdullah, has decided to attend the crucial meeting of all Kashmir-based political parties called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the national capital on Thursday.
“The prime minister has invited us and we are going (to attend the meeting). We will present our demands before the PM and the home minister,” Abdullah told reporters outside his Gupkar residence in Srinagar.
The meeting will be the first of its kind since the BJP-led Central government read down the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in August 2019 and bifurcated the erstwhile state into two union territories.
While informal feelers about the all-party meeting were sent out last week – The Wire broke the story about Modi’s initiative on June 11 – Union home secretary A.K. Bhalla reached out to the top leadership of 14 political parties in J&K to invite them to the national capital.
After a flurry of intra-party meetings, the six constituent parties of the Gupkar alliance met for nearly 30 minutes at Abdullah’s residence on Tuesday, June 22, to discuss the invitation.
A senior leader of the Gupkar Alliance, who didn’t want to be named, told The Wire “there will be no backing down” on their demand for the restoration of special status to J&K.
“After Independence, Jammu and Kashmir acceded to the Union of India on certain terms and conditions laid down in Article 370. It provided us constitutional safeguards and they have been snatched from us without consulting the people (of J&K),” he said.
“We will seek restoration of our constitutional rights,” he said.
Speculations are rife that the Central government was willing to restore full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, something which was promised ‘at an appropriate time’ by the Union home minister Amit Shah earlier this year in parliament.
Speaking with reporters, Mehbooba Mufti, who is the vice-president of the Gupkar alliance, said the Centre should announce confidence building measures such as releasing political prisoners and reviving J&K’s economy.
“We will tell them, ‘Whatever you have done is illegal and unconstitutional’, and without restoration of Article 370, the issue of Jammu and Kashmir can’t be resolved and the situation here will continue to remain volatile,” she said.
The PDP chief said the Gupkar Alliance is not against the institution of dialogue. “Across the country, prisoners were released from jails after the outbreak of COVID-19 while our political prisoners have been humiliated for the past two years,” she said.
“They should have been released also, if they (the Centre) indeed wanted to reach out to the people of Kashmir and us [political leaders]. We are hopeful that the people languishing in jails will be released. And if they can’t be released, they could be at least shifted to the jails in Kashmir,” Mehbooba said.
An ‘admission’ of failure?
Political observers believe that the all-party meeting is an “admission” by the Modi government that it has “failed” in normalising the political situation in Kashmir in the aftermath of the de facto scrapping of Article 370. As late as November last year, Shah had described the alliance as a ‘gang’ which was acting against the interests of India.
The change of heart in New Delhi is also seen as a result of pressure by the Joe Biden administration in the US, which has publically urged the Modi government to return “normalcy as quickly as possible” in Jammu and Kashmir.
After the meeting, M.Y. Tarigami, who is the spokesperson of the Gupkar alliance, told reporters that the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir have repeatedly asked the Central government to release the political prisoners.
“Doctor saheb (Farooq Abdullah) spoke about it in parliament but no one listened. We have got one more opportunity. Whatever agenda they (the Central government) may have, we are not going to be a party to it. If their plan is against the interest of J&K and Ladakh, we will not accept it,” he said.
Interrupting Tarigami, Muzaffar Ahmad Shah, president of the Awami National Conference, which is part of the Gupkar alliance, said: “There can be no compromise on Article 370 and (Article) 35-A.”
Earlier, there were speculations that the Gupkar Alliance was indecisive about attending the all-party meeting. Tarigami said: “We were of the opinion that as head of the Gupkar alliance, only Farooq (Abdullah) saheb could have attended it. But since the invitation has been extended to all the leaders individually, we will go there together.”
Asked about the agenda for the meeting, Tarigami said: “Each one of us will talk. Our agenda is known to everyone. They haven’t shared any agenda. We can talk about all issues.”
“When the meeting ends, we will brief you (media) here and we will brief the media there (Delhi) as well about what transpired in the meeting,” Farooq added.
According to some reports, the National Conference, led by Farooq, is now not keen about attending the proceedings of the delimitation commission, which is expected to increase the number of assembly constituencies from 107 to 114.
There are also rumours that the Centre may announce dates for holding assembly elections by the end of this year or early next year after the commission submits its report. The erstwhile state is under the direct rule of the Centre, after the BJP had pulled out of the alliance with Mehbooba’s PDP three years ago.
“We want to assure the people of J&K and Ladakh that we will raise their concerns and try to live up to their expectations. We are not reaching for the sky. But whatever (constitutional guarantees) we had, we will appeal to the orime minister to safeguard those rights,” Tarigami added.
“Whatever has been snatched from J&K should be returned to us,” he added.