Would Statehood demand be building block?

Srinagar: It is a ‘Delhi Chalo’ moment for all the mainstream political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday as they meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his Lok Kalyan Marg residence in Delhi on Thursday afternoon.

Farooq Abdullah, patron of National Conference (NC), Mehbooba Mufti, chief of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ghulam Nabi Azad, former chief minister and senior Congress leader, Professor Bhim Singh of J&K Panthers Party, Sajad Lone, chief of Peoples Conference (PC), Syed Altaf Bukhari, chief of JK Apni Party, M.Y.Tarigami of the CPI-M, senior BJP leaders from J&K and some former deputy chief ministers are among the 14 invitees to the All Party meeting being headed by Modi.

Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and MoS (PMO) Jitendra Singh will also attend the meeting.

This is the first time that the leaders of NC, PDP, PC, CPI M and some others will meet Modi after August 5, 2019 when articles 370 and 35A were abrogated and the state downgraded into two union territories of J&K and Ladakh.

It is also the first time these leaders will meet the Prime Minister after their detention in the wake of August 5, 2019 developments.

A lot of backroom work has been done to create the atmosphere for tomorrow’s meeting. All the local leaders going to meet the Prime Minister have expressed faith and confidence in Modi stating that “We are happy that he will listen to us and we will be able to express our views freely,” Mehbooba Mufti told reporters while announcing her willingness to attend the meeting.

It is the general belief among the mainstream political parties of J&K that tomorrow’s meeting is not going to be just a photo-ops show.

“The calling of this meeting is a positive indication that the Prime Minister seriously wants to break the ice on the establishment of a political government in J&K.

“A genuine, credible political activity after abrogation of J&K’s special status would mean active participation by all the national and regional political parties in the revival of political activity and the electoral process.

“Elections for the assembly cannot be held in J&K unless the delimitation commission completes it work.

“This, according to informed sources, is going to happen much before the extended term of the commission ends next March.

“Almost all parties whose leaders are meeting Modi on Thursday are going to demand restoration of statehood for J&K.

“We cannot face the people unless statehood is given back. This is not our demand, but our basic requirement if we have to face the people again,” said a senior NC leader obviously not ready to be quoted by name.

All others including the PDP, Congress, PC, Apni Party, CPI M, Panthers Party except the BJP insist that restoration of statehood is basic to the revival of a legitimate political process.

“Restoration of statehood is something that has been assured on the floor of the Parliament by the union home minister.

“Granting statehood would mean fulfilment of Delhi’s promise to J&K, but nothing must come as a pre-condition when these leaders meet the Prime Minister.

“Demanding statehood is their right and granting it is a promise made by the union government, but it cannot be the bedrock beyond which the talks with the Prime Minister cannot go unless this promise is made and fulfilled”, said a top source in Delhi who has been working tirelessly to make tomorrow’s meeting possible.

Frankly speaking, beyond speaking about their participation or non-participation in the forthcoming elections in J&K, none of the leaders calling on Modi have much bargaining power.

“If the option to restore a genuine, elected government in J&K after abrogation of state’s special status, is a national and international obligation of the Centre, there is little option for all the political leaders calling on Modi tomorrow than to take part in the elections.

“How can the fish exist out of water? Not participating in elections would only mean that these leaders have accepted their irrelevance,” said a political analyst.

When the members of the Peoples grand alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) announced their decision to participate in Thursday’s meeting, one of the PAGD leaders said the demand for restoration of article 370, 35A and statehood is non-negotiable for them.

M.Y.Tarigami of the CPI M said we will not demand the stars. We will only demand what is ours and guaranteed by the constitution.

It would undoubtedly be Modi who will decide what would mean asking for the stars and what is actual needed to give these leaders a political and morale booster to join elections.

One keen observer of developments leading to June 24 meeting rightly said, “Your leaders are free to swing their arms, but only short of where the nose of the boss begins”.

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