On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi engaged in the high-stakes talks with parties from Jammu and Kashmir in the National Capital in the first major outreach by the Centre since the region lost its special status and statehood in August 2019.
The prime minister, accompanied by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha, received the leaders from eight parties from Jammu and Kashmir, including the National Conference, the PDP, Congress, and the BJP's J&K unit, at his residence.
With no agenda announced for the meeting, the leaders from Jammu and Kashmir said they came with an 'open mind'.
Sources told News18 a "free-wheeling discussion" was expected between the Centre's representatives and top leaders of Jammu and Kashmir including Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sajjad Lone, among others.
So what happened? Firstpost brings you the lowdown on what transpired, what it means and why it matters.
Who said what and why it matters
According to News18, sources said that the prime minister's remarks focussed on elections and Jammu and Kashmir getting its own elected government.
He said the Centre is fully committed to the democratic process and stressed that holding Assembly elections, just like the successful conduct of DDC elections, is a priority for his government.
He further tweeted:
"Our democracy's biggest strength is the ability to sit across a table and exchange views," Modi tweeted. " I told the leaders of Jammu and Kashmir that it is the people, specially the youth who have to provide political leadership to Jammu and Kashmirand ensure their aspirations are duly fulfilled."
The prime minister also emphasised the need to strengthen democracy at the grassroots level and work together with the people of Jammu and Kashmir to ensure their upliftment, News18 said.
Shah said Thursday's meeting on Jammu and Kashmir was held in a very cordial environment. "Everyone expressed their commitment to democracy and the Constitution. It was stressed to strengthen the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir," Shah tweeted..
He further tweeted:
This gains significance considering the fact that Jammu and Kashmir has been under President's Rule since the Mehbooba Mufti government collapsed in 2018. The Centre restarting political engagement with the Valley's top leadership is seen as a possible precursor to the holding of long-pending elections.
Since then, barring the Block Development Council polls in October and the District Development Council polls in December 2020 " the PAGD had surged ahead of the BJP and its allies including the JKAP, by bagging 110 seats out of 280 with the National Conference emerging stronger with 67 seats within the alliance, while the BJP was the single largest party with 75 seats " politics in Jammu and Kashmir has more or less been in a state of suspended animation>.
Sources also told News18 the >Centre sought to impress upon the political parties its achievements in the Valley over the past two years including:
Block-level elections held for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir history.
A new level of grassroots democracy with the creation of district development councils.
DDC election turnout was 51 percent higher than the panchayat and Lok Sabha polls.
Panchayats were given over Rs 3,000 crore worth of financial powers.
When the Gupkar Alliance raised the issue of political prisoners, Amit Shah in a presentation said only a dozen are still in custody under the PSA and added that a committee will be formed to secure their release.
Senior Congress leader and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad the following issues were raised in the meet:
Restoration of Statehood
Protection of land rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Honourable & dignified return of Kashmiri Pandits
Immediate release of political prisoners
Former deputy chief minister Muzzafar Hussain Baig said Modi ''carefully' listened to every issue raised during the meeting and gave his response.
The BJP's Kavinder Gupta said all political parties presented their opinions. "I think that in the time to come, the political process is going to begin. Elections will also be held after the delimitation process. Assembly will be constituted there once again," Gupta added>.
Development of Jammu and Kashmir
Speaking on the development of the region, the prime minister said stressed on the need to give opportunities to the youths of Jammu and Kashmir and said they will give back lots to our country. According to sources, the prime minister also expressed satisfaction with the acceleration of development in Jammu and Kashmir and said that it is creating new hope and aspirations among the people.
He also said that when people experience corruption-free governance, it inspires trust among the people and people also extend their co-operation to the administration and this is visible in Jammu and Kashmir today, News18 said.
On Article 370
As per BJP leader Nirmal Singh, when the issue of Article 370 was raised, the prime minister said we should work within the constitutional framework.
Azad said almost 80 percent of parties spoke on Article 370 but added that the matter is sub-judice in court.
As per Sajjad Gani Lone, the prime minister, speaking on the delimitation exercise, said, his government wants "everyone's cooperation and participation".
This prime minister's plea comes in the backdrop of the ongoing delimitation exercise to redraw the boundaries of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir as per the latest census.
Many have contended that after the delimitation, the Jammu region, where the BJP has a strong base, could find itself with an increase in seats, thus possibly altering the political power balance between Jammu and Kashmir regions.
Omar Abdullah claimed that the delimitation exercise seemed to be a 'little suspicious'.
Former chief minister Farooq Abdullah said that building trust in Jammu and Kashmir is necessary today and that restoration of full statehood of the Union Territory will be the first trust-building exercise from New Delhi.
Omar said that his party told the prime minister that people have lost their (the government's) trust, and now this is the time to get it back.
Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari said the prime minister assured of the restoration of statehood and resumption of political activities in Jammu and Kashmir.
Azad said all leaders demanded full-fledged statehood and that the home minister said the government is committed to granting statehood to Jammu and Kashmir.
While tabling the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019 in Parliament, the Union home minister had vowed that the Centre would grant full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir at an "appropriate time".
The meeting seemed to be the result of the back-channel talks held with all the parties from the Union Territory to chart out a roadmap for a possible restoration of Jammu and Kashmir's statehood, which the Valley's leaders have been demanding.
The big picture
The meeting wasn't expected to resolve any long-standing issues and nor did it. But what it did accomplish was letting the top leaders in the Valley air out their frustrations, and express their hopes and expectations from the Centre.
To perhaps set the table for possible future achievements. As Ram Madhav tweeted:
Or, to quote Winston Churchill, while this is not the end or even the beginning of the end, it is perhaps the end of the beginning.