All eyes on PM Modi’s all-party meeting with J&K leaders to be held tomorrow
Kashmir watchers of long standing believe that it has finally dawned on the Centre that full-fledged political activities in the region cannot be restored without talking to its key principal parties
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a conglomeration of six political parties, in a meeting held on Tuesday at the residence of National Conference president and former J&K Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, formally announced its intention to participate in an all party meeting convened by PM Narendra Modi scheduled for June 24.
At least 14 political leaders representing different regional and national political parties have been invited to the meeting convened by the Central dispensation. The invitation came on June 19, a couple of weeks after rumours swirled through the Valley that New Delhi had something up its sleeve.
Soon after the meeting of PAGD leaders, Farooq Abdullah told a group of reporters at his residence that they would participate in the meeting and put their agenda before the Prime Minister.
It will be the BJP-led government’s first political engagement with leaders from Jammu and Kashmir after almost two years.
The unilateral decision by the Centre on August 5, 2019 which put paid to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and split the region into two Union territories disrupted all political activities in the region. A day before Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced the government's decision on the floor of Parliament, political leaders of all key political parties including three former Chief Ministers were taken into detention.
Later, New Delhi tried to project a picture of normalcy in the region. At least three foreign delegations were sent to Kashmir to send out a message to the outside world that things were hunky dory in the Valley. The trips were however, criticised by opposition political parties as "controlled" and "guided" by the Centre.
In February 2020, Altaf Bukhari, a cash rich political leader, who served as a minister in the PDP-BJP government, formed his own political party called Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party ( JKAP), roping in several former lawmakers and ministers from various regional political outfits of Kashmir. The party was formed to present a ‘political alternative’ to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and side with the Union government on its position vis-a-vis scrapping of the special constitutional position of Jammu and Kashmir.
While ordinary Kashmiris looked at the outfit as a party of quislings, some compared Bukhari with Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, a National Conference leader who became the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 1953 after New Delhi suddenly removed Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah from the chair and arrested him.
Last year, before the onset of winter, the Union government had made an attempt to restore the political process in the Valley by holding elections to District Development Councils.
The PAGD entered into a pre-poll alliance and swept the polls in the Valley. While the newly-minted JKAP could bag only 12 seats, the BJP won only three seats in the Valley.
Both the JKAP and BJP were blamed by some PAGD leaders for resorting to coercive measures during the polls. Several PAGD candidates alleged that they were not allowed to leave their ‘secured accommodations’ by the police on the pretext of threats to their life.
After the DDC results were declared in December last year, all political activities again came to a standstill. The sudden move by the Central government to host mainline leaders of Jammu and Kashmir thus surprised all and sundry.
Kashmir watchers of long standing believe that it has finally dawned on New Delhi that full-fledged political activities in the region cannot be restored without talking to the key principal parties of the Valley and the jackboots cannot keep the people quiet for long. The ‘political alternative’ created in the form of JKAP also failed to assuage the hurt feeling of the people caused due to the reading down of constitutional provisions of the state.
Moreover, the long bureaucratic rule since the PDP-BJP government fell apart in 2018 has only multiplied the problems of people on many counts in the region.
New Delhi's willingness to talk to the political leaders of erstwhile state could also be seen in the backdrop of recent remarks made by Dean Thompson, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia during a Congressional hearing on democracy in the Indo-Pacific region that the Biden administration has urged India to restore normality in Kashmir.
The latest political development is keeping the people of the Valley on the edge of their seats as they are keenly looking forward to the outcome of the June 24 meeting.
Views are personal