Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla on Saturday invited 14leaders of Jammu and Kashmir political parties, including the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party and the CPI(M), for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 24.  This will be the first political engagement by the Prime Minister since the scrapping of Article 370 on August 5, 2019.

The meeting plan has got cautious acceptance from invitees amid the expectations that the consultations may be the first step towards holding of assembly elections in the state.

 

CPI(M) leader and Gupkar alliance spokesman M.Y. Tarigami said“We have received a formal invite. The alliance will sit together and discuss the proposed meeting.” However, sources close to Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti, a strong critic of the Centre’s 2019 decision, said she is reluctant to be a part of the meeting with the Prime Minister “unless the Centre spells out its agenda” and “takes concrete initiatives”. Officials from New Delhi have spoken to Ms. Mufti on the phone about the meeting.  “Ms. Mufti has called a meeting of the party’s Political Affairs Committee (PAC) on Sunday to take a final call on the proposed meeting,” Mr. Bukhari said.

Meanwhile, Sartaj Madani, uncle of Ms. Mufti, was released after a six month preventive detention from a Srinagar sub-jail on Saturday.

 

Many J&K political parties are careful in assessing the implications of the initiative and highlight the centrality of their demands like restoration of statehood.

The Gupkar alliance is likely to put up a joint front and a common narrative for the complete restoration of the pre August 5 status of J&K.  At any rate the statehood demand is expected to be a key element of any election campaign.

Any discussion on elections is currently a future scenario as the delimitation commission must first submit its recommendations for new MLA and Lok Sabha constituencies.

The Delimitation Commission for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has kicked off the exercise by writing to all 20 District Commissioners (DC), seeking basic demographic, topographic information as well as the local administration’s impressions of political aspirations of the district. It is only after the completion of the delimitation exercise that elections for the Assembly can be held, although District Development Council (DDC) polls were held last year.

 

Political parties and leaders in J&K continue to debate whether “restoration” of statehood will mean full-state status or Centre will keep the UT’s home department (law & order) under its control. Yonus Tarigami of CPM, Congress state chief GA Mir and Bukhari of Apni Party are keen on talks. “Solutions to J&K’s problems lie at New Delhi, not Islamabad or London. Delhi’s invitation is a welcome development,” Bukhari said.

“This is a chance to restore statehood,” he said, hoping an announcement for an early poll will follow the PM’s meeting.