Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met leaders from Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday and reportedly assured them that elections and restoration of statehood were very much on the cards, in the government’s first major outreach in almost two years.
At least 14 leaders from eight political parties in Jammu and Kashmir attended the three-hour long meeting with the prime minister which Mr Modi called an “important step in the ongoing efforts towards a developed and progressive Jammu and Kashmir.”
Some of the leaders who attended the meeting were detained for months after the central government revoked the Himalayan region’s special status in 2019.
After the meeting, Kashmiri leaders told reporters that they demanded full statehood for Jammu and Kashmir and elections to be held in the region.
Both Mr Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah assured that elections will be held after the delimitation exercise is over, according to reports.
Mr Modi said in a tweet after the meeting: “Our priority is to strengthen grassroots democracy in Jammu and Kashmir. Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and Jammu and Kashmir gets an elected government that gives strength to Jammu and Kashmir’s development trajectory.”
Delimitation is the process of redrawing boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province.
Separately, Mr Shah also said that the “future of Jammu and Kashmir was discussed and the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in parliament.”
In February this year, he had asserted in parliament that the central government will grant full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir at an appropriate time.
In August 2019, the Modi government abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, ending the region's autonomy and removing its statehood by splitting it into two federal territories.
Kashmiri leaders called the meeting an important first step.
The Hindustan Times quoted People’s Conference leader Muzzafar Hussain Baig as saying: “All leaders demanded statehood. To which the PM said, the delimitation process should conclude first and then other issues will be addressed.”
In an interview with India Today, National Conference leader and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said while the trust between them and the central government hasn’t been bridged, “the first step has to be made somewhere and the prime minister made the first step.”
He also said that the leaders have come back from the meeting with two distinct impressions — the central government is keen to hold early elections and also to restore statehood of Jammu and Kashmir.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that when the leaders demanded restoration of statehood before elections, the home minister said elections can’t be held before delimitation.
But Mr Abdullah told reporters that delimitation is not needed in Jammu and Kashmir at present. “While the rest of the country will have delimitation in 2026, why in Jammu and Kashmir now,” he was quoted as asking by news agency ANI.
Meanwhile, Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the regional People’s Democratic Party, said she spoke about the “pain and anger and frustration among the people of Jammu and Kashmir since August 2019, about how they feel humiliated.”