Committed to restoring statehood, PM Modi told leaders from J&K

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a three-hour meeting with top political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, assured that he was committed to restoring statehood to the region.

PM Modi, sources said, urged the parties to get on board with delimitation or redrawing of assembly constituencies to enable elections for the first time since Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status under Article 370 in 2019 and was bifurcated into two Union Territories.

Fourteen mainstream Jammu and Kashmir leaders from eight political parties, including four former Chief Ministers, attended the meeting aimed at setting on course the political process in the region, which has been under President’s Rule since 2018 when BJP withdrew support from then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s government.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval were also present.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad after the meeting said they put forward five demands –– grant statehood soon, conduct Assembly elections to restore democracy, rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in J&K, all political detainees should be released and on domicile rules – during their talks with the PM.

People’s Conference leader Muzzafar Hussain Baig termed the meeting “cordial” and “positive”, adding PM Modi assured that he will do everything to make Jammu and Kashmir a zone of peace rather than conflict. “All leaders demanded statehood, to which PM said the delimitation process should conclude first and then other issues will be addressed,’’ he added. It was a satisfactory meeting. There was complete unanimity for restoring peace in Jammu and Kashmir,” Baig added.

Ahead of the meeting, Jammu and Kashmir Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir said they would raise the issue of statehood at the all-party meet convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “People in the state are shocked after the developments in 2019. We’ll wait for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda for today’s meeting and respond accordingly,” he said.

“The main focus of the meeting was to strengthen the democratic process. PM said that we are fully committed to the democratic process in J&K. He stressed that the holding assembly elections just like the successful conduct of District Development Council elections is a priority,” government sources said.

The Prime Minister, said sources, “patiently heard suggestions and inputs from all participants” and expressed happiness that all participants shared their frank and honest views. “It was an open discussion which revolved around building a better future for Kashmir,” they said.

This was the Centre’s first major outreach since August 2019 towards political leaders who have been severely critical of the Article 370 decision. Many of the leaders attending the meeting had been detained as part of security measures to prevent any protests over the sweeping changes.

The Delimitation Commission had on Wednesday held a virtual meeting with the Deputy Commissioners of all districts in Jammu and Kashmir to discuss details of existing electoral constituencies.