SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI: Mainstream regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir, including the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party went into a huddle on Sunday over the all-party meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 24, while the Congress raised the pitch for immediate restoration of statehood to J-K.
The deliberations came ahead of a joint meeting of the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of six political parties including the NC, PDP, CPM, Awami National Conference, CPI and JK People's Movement, to be held on Tuesday to discuss their stand on the Centre's invite.
According to media reports, the meeting on June 24 will entail a discussion on the delimitation exercise with the avowed aim of eventual restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, the last step in its political integration with the Indian Union.
The delimitation commission seeks to redraw the electoral map of Jammu and Kashmir by creating more constituencies – a long-pending demand of parties in Jammu, where the Bharatiya Janata Party is strong. The NC and the PDP are opposed to the delimitation exercise.
A two-hour-long political affairs committee meeting of Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP was held on Sunday. Mehbooba Mufti has stressed on a collective fight for the restoration of statehood and Article 370 (a no-no with Centre). Mufti chaired a meeting of the party Sunday afternoon in Srinagar, hours after receiving a formal invitation from Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla for an All-Party meeting on June 24 which will be chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The party unanimously authorised the party president to take a final decision on the matter,” PDP chief spokesperson Syed Suhail Bukhari told reporters outside Mehbooba’s residence after the meeting.
Bukhari said the PAGD would meet on Tuesday to discuss the issue when it would then be decided whether or not to participate in the meeting called by the PM.
However, the release of Mehbooba’s uncle Sartaj Madani from preventive detention after nearly six months and the party’s jailed youth president Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, charge-sheeted by the National Investigation Agency and the Jammu and Kashmir police, being brought back to Jammu from Kashmir is seen as a move to ensure that Mehbooba participates in the meeting.
The PM’s meeting with all political parties from Jammu and Kashmir is part of the Centre’s initiatives to bolster political processes, including holding assembly elections, in the Union Territory.
Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah also started the process of consultation with senior leaders of the NC, including party general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar and provincial president of Kashmir Nasir Aslam Wani.
Others who attended the meeting were Chowdhary Mohammad Ramzan, Sheikh Mustafa Kamal, Mian Altaf, Mubarak Gul, Sakina Itoo, Khalid Najeeb Suhurwardy and two members of Parliament, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi.
“Consultations are on. After the party president is done talking to party leaders, a meeting of the PAGD will take place where the member parties will discuss the issue and take a collective decision,” Wani told reporters after the meeting.
Invitations were sent out to 14 political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, including four former chief ministers, for participation in the high-level meeting to be chaired by the PM, which is expected to set the roadmap for holding assembly elections in the UT.
The leaders of eight political parties -- the NC, PDP, BJP, Congress, Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, CPI(M), People's Conference, and the Panthers Party -- were telephonically invited by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla to participate in the meeting to be held at the Prime Minister’s residence in the national capital at 3pm on Thursday.
This will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first interaction with all the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir since August 5, 2019, when the Central government abrogated the state’s special status and bifurcated it into UTs. The erstwhile state has been under Central rule since June 2018.
Meanwhile, in Delhi, the Congress said that restoring full statehood and conduct of elections would be the way forward to restore democracy.
Congress chief spokesperson and general secretery Randeep Surjewala, however, did not say whether or not the party would participate in the June 24 meeting.
“Let me draw your attention towards the Congress working committee resolution on August 6, 2019 whereby it clearly demanded restoration of statehood of Jammu and Kashmir. We believe that undoing it is a direct attack on democracy and the constitutional principles.”
"Indian National Congress believes grant of full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir as also holding elections so that people are able to elect their representatives instead of a rule by Delhi, is the only way forward to guarantee full democratic rights." he added.
He said, "Now it's for the PM and the BJP to decide whether to hold a meeting or to accept the demands of the Indian National Congress, the interest of the constitution and the people of the state."
In a related development, Panthers Party, whose chief Bhim Singh has been invited for talks, staged a protest in Jammu against the alleged “Kashmir appeasement policy’ of the central government.The party was unhappy that a majority of the leaders invited to the all-party meeting were from the Valley. He said he would be meeting the party leaders on Monday to discuss the invitation and decide on his participation.
A group of party activists led by JKNPP chairman and former minister Harsh Dev Singh burnt an effigy symbolising the BJP-led central government outside the party headquarters here.
“The government invited all Kashmir-based parties for the meeting but ignored the leadership of Jammu.
“Altaf Bukhari’s recently launched Apni Party and Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference, which are yet to be recognised by the Election Commission of India, have got the invitation while only Bhim Singh was invited from Jammu,” Harsh Dev Singh told reporters.