It was officially hyped as “initiation of the political process” when, for the first time after abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A five months back, a group of the mainstream Kashmiri leaders, comprising former Ministers and legislators, met the Union Territory’s Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu at Raj Bhawan in Jammu on Tuesday, 7 January.
Significantly, however, there was no mention of the restoration of the Articles 370 and 35-A that granted special constitutional status to Jammu and Kashmir which was terminated by way of the passage of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in August 2019.
The valley has been under gradually receding tension and lockdown, including detention of scores of the mainstream politicians and internet freeze in the last over five months.
The delegation headed by former Finance Minister and leading businessman Syed Altaf Bukhari, included former Cabinet Ministers Ghulam Hassan Mir and Mohammad Dilawar Mir, besides former MLAs Javed Hassan Baig, Noor Mohammad Sheikh, Choudhary Qamar Hussain, Raja Manzoor Ahmad and Zaffar Iqbal Manhas. A few of them were under house arrest for some time but others, including Bukhari and Dilawar Mir, had not been detained.
After his break up with the PDP founder late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Ghulam Hassan Mir, who has several times worked as Cabinet Minister since 1884, has been running his own Democratic Party (Nationalist). He was, however, defeated by a PDP candidate and his party did not win any seat in the Assembly elections of 2014.
Mohammad Dilawar Mir too has functioned as a Minister in several governments since 1977 when he had been inducted into the Council of Ministers by then National Conference Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. He has served in NC, Janata Dal and PDP. Due to conviction by a court in CBI’s fertiliser scam, he did not contest the Assembly election of 2014. He, however, fielded his son Yawar Mir as PDP’s youngest candidate in J&K. His son defeated NC’s Javed Dar in the home constituency Rafiabad which Dilawar Mir lost for the first time after 1996 in 2008. The Mirs are close relatives of Bukhari who has been expelled by PDP.
After dismissal of the Mehbooba Mufti government due to withdrawal of support by BJP and during suspended animation of the Legislative Assembly, Bukhari had staked claim to form a coalition government with the support of PDP, NC and Congress in 2018. However, then Governor Satya Pal Malik did not entertain his claim and dissolved the Assembly.
Previously, Bukhari and his businessman father Syed Mohammad Iqbal Bukhari have also been instrumental in dismissal of Dr Farooq Abdullah’s NC government and installation of Ghulam Mohammad Shah as Chief Minister and head of a Congress-backed coalition government in 1984.
In the last several yeras, most of the delegation’s members including Bukhari, Ghulam Hassan Mir, Dilawar Mir, ex-MLC Zaffar Iqbal Manhas and ex-MLAs Javed Hassan Baig, Noor Mohammad Sheikh, Choudhary Qamar Hussain and Raja Manzoor Ahmad have remained associated with PDP.
" “The meeting of the former Legislators and Politicians with the Lt Governor assumes significance as it has initiated the political process and dialogue with the members of mainstream political parties of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.”" - Department of Information press release
The delegation has projected several demands including “restoration of Statehood” but significantly avoided reference to abrogation or restoration of Article 370 and 35-A.
“The delegation highlighted various issues and demands pertaining to restoration of statehood, safeguarding rights over land and jobs, restoration of JK Bank’s functional domain, reviving Agriculture and Horticulture Sectors, restoration of internet, strengthening National Highway and regional connectivity within J&K and putting a cap on airfares, relief for general trade including shopkeepers, bus owners, taxi owners and Credit expansion through J&K SLBC”, said the official release.
" “They also sought Government’s support for promoting Industry and Manufacturing Sector, Tourism and allied Industries and their revival besides addressing the issue of unemployment.”" - Department of Information press release
“The Lt Governor while interacting with the members of the delegation appreciated their view points and concerns and conveyed that the Government is committed to safeguard the rights of the people of J&K and particularly assured them that the provisions will be made for protecting the land of the locals and employment avenues in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir”, it said and added that the LG also assured the delegation that administration at all levels would be “sensitized to hear grievances, coordinate with popular leaders, solve issues and carry out developmental activities in right earnest”.
The delegation has met Mr Murmu at a time when the LG’s administration, apparently with a green signal from the Centre, has either released about a dozen of the political detainees or shifted them from jail to house arrest.
Former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, besides former Ministers Ali Mohammad Sagar, Nasir Aslam Wani, Naeem Akhtar besides IAS officer-turned-politician Dr Shah Faesal are still in different detention centres.
Former Chief Minister and NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah is the only mainstream politician who has been detained under Public Safety Act but allowed to remain confined at his home.
Due to detention of over 50 mainstream politicians, political activity in Jammu and Kashmir has remained completely frozen after abrogation of Article 370 and the erstwhile State’s simultaneous division into the UTs of J&K and Ladakh.
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