SRINAGAR: The 3.5 hours long meeting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted at his official residence for 14 Jammu and Kashmir politicians on June 24, 2021, was the first major outreach after August 5, 2019. After participants conveyed their point of view, Prime Minister and Home Minister reiterated an election after delimitation and then restoration of the statehood. Participants said there were no assurances and the Article 370 was not taken up because there was an insistence of the issue being subjudice.
Different people see the outcome differently. Here are the editorial comments from various newspapers being published outside Jammu and Kashmir. Read how they see it?
June 29, 2021
Kashmir continues to be a prized ideological initiative for the current regime and it is unlikely that the sangh parivar would be willing to let go of the opportunity to bring about substantial changes there
The Bharatiya Janata Party under Narendra Modi is averse to U-turns. So when it is compelled to take one, as it has done in the case of Kashmir, it fuels speculation. Consider Mr Modi’s outreach to Kashmir’s political parties. The initiative is welcome and has, at long last, kindled hopes of the renewal of a political engagement.
But what makes it curious is that the BJP leaders had, not too long ago, crowed about the creation of a Naya Kashmir sans the very spokespersons that they are deliberating with now. Political pundits have, therefore, been wondering about the likely nudges that may have forced Mr Modi’s hand. There is speculation that pressure from the United States of America to begin the stalled dialogue with Islamabad could be one factor; Kashmir, undoubtedly, would feature in such a dialogue if there were to be one. Others have pointed to New Delhi’s geostrategic imperatives. The return of the Taliban in Afghanistan could heat up the neighbourhood and it is therefore important for New Delhi to have calmer tempers prevail in the Valley.
Backchannel deliberations with Pakistan — they are believed to have begun — may have also played an instrumental role in Mr Modi’s offer of an olive branch — for now — to Kashmir’s political fraternity whose members had been subjected to unprecedented harassment ever since the Centre decided, unilaterally, to redraw the lines in the region.
These inferences may not be erroneous. But they seem to be ignoring one, equally plausible, causal factor behind the re-engagement. Kashmir continues to be a prized ideological initiative for the current regime and it is unlikely that the sangh parivar would be willing to let go of the opportunity to bring about substantial changes there.
Even though the recent meeting between the prime minister and Kashmir’s political leaders was couched in the rhetoric of reconciliation on the part of the Centre, Mr Modi’s not-so-subtle prod to the leadership to endorse the contentious delimitation exercise did not go unnoticed. In fact, there is legitimate concern that delimitation would redistribute the political heft in Jammu’s favour, thereby deepening the existing polarization between the Valley and Jammu. That the BJP is enthusiastic about prioritizing its domestic ideological agenda over diplomatic compulsions has been evident in its pursuit of a divisive rhetoric against immigrants from Bangladesh. There is no reason why Kashmir would be spared this problematic prioritization of ideology over consensus.
A Victory Of Democracy
June 25, 2021
Hindustan Times, Delhi
The Kashmir talks have opened the door for a political solution to the post-2019 stalemate. But statehood is key
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s decision to invite leaders of Jammu and Kashmir’s mainstream political formations, including four former chief ministers, three of whom were arrested by the central government less than two years ago, is a victory of Indian democracy. The fact that these leaders had an opportunity to articulate their grievances and sense of betrayal at the events of 2019, and the fact that the Centre was able to present its viewpoint on the path ahead, too reflects the best traditions of democratic dialogue. There can be a legitimate debate on what prompted the government to send the invitation out in the first place, and whether it was from a position of strength or weakness. There can also be a legitimate debate on what prompted the Kashmiri parties to accept the invitation, and whether it was from a sense of seeking validation and legitimacy or out of desperation. But irrespective of the motive, the outcome was positive.
Having said that, this is only the first step in a long and challenging process ahead. The achievement of Thursday’s talks is that it is now clear that the restoration of Article 370 is no longer a precondition to political progress, and all parties have found the fact that the issue is sub-judice a good cover to tell their respective constituencies that they haven’t diluted their position on it. But the script then gets complicated. The Centre has made it clear that it wants to restore the democratic process, and has pushed for delimitation, elections and statehood, in that order. But for Kashmir’s parties, as well as the Congress which has a presence in Kashmir, this sequence doesn’t work.
If they are expected to participate in the democratic process, despite the massive trust deficit of the past few years, it is hard for them to do so in return for elections to a Union Territory. And so, they want statehood and elections, in that order.
The Centre has already succeeded in creating a new post-370 reality in Kashmir, fulfilling a key ideological goal. It has, to a large extent, also managed to defuse the international pressure on this specific question. But it needs to send a signal to both the Kashmiri street and Kashmiri politicians that Delhi respects their political aspirations for genuine federalism. As for Kashmir’s parties, they have an opportunity to be part of the electoral process and it is likely they can negotiate for some special dispensation for locals much like some other states have. The interests of the two sides, perhaps for the first time in decades, are broadly aligned. Now both need to look at the bigger picture to ensure a divergence in sequencing does not become a deal-breaker.
Hope On Kashmir
June 25, 2021
The Times of India, Delhi
PM meeting with J&K leaders seems to indicate a positive start. Everyone must work towards statehood
A significant step to advance the restoration of the political process in the Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir got underway yesterday during the course of the meeting PM Modi had with leaders of political parties from the region. Optics took priority as it was the first formal meeting leaders from Kashmir Valley had with Modi after the key elements of Article 370 were neutralised in August 2019. That legislative step was accompanied by long detentions of leaders from Kashmir. That they were now meeting GoI’s top leadership accounts for the importance of the meeting’s symbolism.
Significantly, Article 370 didn’t prove to be a negotiation-killer. A Constitution bench of the Supreme Court is seized of the legal issues pertaining to Article 370. Political leaders from Kashmir indicated that they will abide by the outcome. This is most welcome.
Restoration of the political process began last year through direct elections of sarpanches and members of the District Development Councils. The outcome suggested that old political parties such as NC and PDP retain enough support to make them essential to the deepening of the political process. DDC elections were followed by the restoration of 4G services in February.
Peace in Kashmir has been hostage to cross-border terrorism. With a thaw in India’s relationship with Pakistan, this is an opportune moment to take the next few steps in the political process. The most important one is to complete the ongoing delimitation exercise.
The current exercise for J&K has run into a problem as the associate members from Kashmir have not participated in the delimitation committee meetings. The presence of all political stakeholders is essential to cover all aspects and ensure the credibility of the process. Hopefully, this meeting will persuade some political parties to shed their reluctance and join the process. The long-term goal is restoration of statehood. GoI recently approved a financial package of Rs 28,400 crore spread over 16 years for J&K’s industrial development. This is a large commitment. In a democracy, such spending needs to be overseen by elected governments.
Road Ahead For Kashmir
June 25, 2021
Telangana Today, Hyderabad
If breaking political impasse was the objective of the J&K meeting, then it can be said that it met the expectations
The all-party meeting on Jammu and Kashmir convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first political outreach since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, served as good optics in these troubled times, though both sides chose not to go beyond their stated positions. The expectations from such an initiative must be tempered in view of the harsh ground realities in the trouble-torn Valley.
While the mainstream political parties of the region hope for an early restoration of the statehood, the Centre appears to have kept them in waiting mode. The current focus is on completing the delimitation exercise early to pave the way for holding Assembly elections.
The thinking in the government appears to be that once the grassroots democracy is strengthened and J&K gets an elected government, development projects can take off at a great speed. While bifurcating the State into two Union Territories, the NDA government had promised corruption-free governance, strong grassroots democracy, employment opportunities for the local youth and a massive development package. For the political parties, however, restoration of the special status remains the key issue.
The constituents of Gupkar Alliance, a conglomeration of mainstream parties, articulated their stand at the meeting that the restoration of special status alone would help secure their identity, security of land and jobs. A positive aspect of the meeting was that though nullifying Article 370 was criticised by the parties, the issue did not become a sticking point and the exercise was marked by a broad sense of optimism.
If breaking the political impasse was the objective of the meeting, then it can be said that it met the expectations, though it is still a long road ahead to restore normalcy in the volatile region. There is a need to continue the political dialogue in earnest to arrive at a sustainable and meaningful roadmap keeping in view the best interests and the welfare of the people.
Revival of statehood, holding early Assembly elections, fair and objective delimitation process, and constitutional mechanism to protect the rights of all residents of J&K on their land, jobs and natural resources would be among the key confidence-building measures that will set in motion a genuine democratic exercise. There is no doubt that much of the onus for any normalisation of the democratic processes lies with the Centre.
Despite the successful conduct of the District Development Council elections, trust deficit persists in the Valley. The prolonged incarceration of political leaders, after ending the special status, has accentuated the perceived sense of injustice in the region. Restoring the democratic process and bringing back Kashmiri parties into the national political mainstream serve the twin purpose of domestic political stability and international messaging.
On Centre’s J&K Outreach
June 26, 2021
The Hindu, Chennai
Restoration of Statehood should be at the start of the revival of the democratic process in J&K
Political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) who attended a meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday came away with a sense of optimism: restoration of Statehood is somewhere on the horizon, even if a total reversal of the withdrawal of the special status remains unlikely. The meeting itself was a surprise, and came at a time when expectations of any quick resolution were very low. But the fact that a spectrum of political leaders got the invitation from the Centre without any set pre-conditions had raised hopes of progress.
Eventually, the meeting gave reason to Kashmir’s political class to believe in possibilities that did not seem to exist just a week earlier. But restoration of Statehood to J&K, which was reorganised as two Union Territories, should be the first step in the revival of the democratic political process and not the culmination of some elaborate negotiation strategy.
Mr Modi described the meeting as an “important step in the ongoing efforts towards a developed and progressive J&K”. While committing to strengthen grassroots democracy, he called for quick delimitation of constituencies, after which legislative polls could be held. Home Minister Amit Shah insisted the restoration of Statehood will follow delimitation and elections.
Not surprisingly, many participants were not convinced by this sequence suggested by the Centre. But the positives are that the long meeting was freewheeling, without rancour and all parties were united in the demand for the restoration of Statehood. Most participants also sought an assurance to return the domiciliary rights concerning land and State services, but considering the BJP’s strident position, this might be difficult.
As Mr Modi argued, the focus must be on the future, but this will have to be built on the trust and cooperation of the people of J&K. Decades of turmoil have created unique problems of governance and mistrust. The NC and the PDP, with all their deficiencies, remain India’s best messengers to the people of the Valley. In deciding to engage them, and other parties, the Centre has made a departure from its earlier position. By seizing the opportunity, these parties also showed maturity.
Global and domestic factors might have nudged the Centre towards what appears to be a tentative accommodation of other viewpoints. But the political challenge to its decision to hollow out Article 370 is all but fading. The restoration of Statehood has been placed so far down the path that any discussion on special status is unthinkable in the near future. In that sense, the Centre and the BJP have irreversibly reset the conversation on J&K. That success should not blind them to the resentment among the people. Mr Modi and Mr Shah will have to look forward to the future rather than being bound by their past rhetoric on Kashmir.
Build On Beginning
June 26, 2021
The Indian Express, Delhi
Centre and J&K leaders, Centre more than J&K leaders, must ensure Thursday’s meeting leads to structured engagement
The first Jammu & Kashmir all-party meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his seven years in office, his first engagement with leaders of mainstream Kashmir parties since the revoking of special status of J&K in August 2019, marks an important and welcome political moment. The meeting ended without “outcomes”, expectedly so. But a way forward can be carved out from here.
From the statements and tweets of the participants, it seems the Modi government has a plan: Delimitation, assembly election, restoration of statehood. Though the timeline is still not clear, Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have indicated that delimitation is a priority. The J&K leaders appear to be in general agreement with the broad contours, though some might want the ordering to be different — statehood or elections first, delimitation last. There is also a sense that participation in the exercise is in their own interest.
The regional leadership seems to have come to terms with the reality that restoration of the special status of J&K cannot be negotiated with a government that had made revocation of Article 370 a key ideological project. If at all there is a reversal, it will come through the courts.
That the J&K leaders decided to attend this meeting despite their public humiliation over the last two years — of the 14 present in the room, at least six, including three former chief ministers, were detained for extended periods — is a measure of their investment in, and commitment to, the political mainstream. An acknowledgement of this by the host may have been statesmanly. It was not forthcoming on Thursday.
But the government must at least make clear that this was not a one-off event to grab a headline or photo-opportunity, that it is listening now to those it had earlier derided and sought to sideline in “Naya Kashmir”. It must commit to a structured process of continuous engagement.
After August 2019, there is a terrible trust deficit vis a vis the intentions of the Centre. Those whose co-operation Prime Minister Modi now seeks have taken an enormous political — and security — risk, both in Delhi and in Kashmir, and it is his government’s responsibility to walk the extra mile, especially as it still holds all the cards.
There are some overarching takeaways from Thursday’s meeting. One, the Kashmir problem needs a political solution, not administrative quick fixes entrusted to an unaccountable bureaucracy. Two, new leaders cannot be created overnight, there is no going back to a clean slate in politics. Three, there is a huge difference between political rhetoric and political reality.
It is too early to say how Delhi’s latest political outreach to J&K will play out. Both sides, the Centre and Kashmir’s mainstream leadership, have travelled far from August 5, 2019, but there is a long distance still to be covered. Thursday’s meeting was the right and necessary step to take, but the state has seen too many fresh starts lead nowhere. The Centre and Kashmir’s leaders, the Centre more than Kashmir’s leaders, must build on this beginning.
Kashmir Meeting: A Good Start
Jun 26 2021
Deccan Herald, Bangaluru
The best outcome of Thursday’s meeting on Jammu and Kashmir convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the meeting itself. It may have shown that the political ice that has accumulated after the scrapping of Article 370 in August 2019 has started melting and it is possible to have some communication between the government and the political parties in Kashmir. That marks a comedown for the government which had reviled their leaders as the ‘Gupkar gang’ and ‘anti-nationals’.
The government had also taken to repression and disinformation about Kashmir. In about two years it has thought of making an outreach for reasons that have been variously cited as pressure from the US and a change in the geostrategic situation. Whatever the reason, the initiative has been widely welcomed and deserves to be taken forward.
However, no clear road map was shown for taking it forward, though the Prime Minister promised to restore statehood to Kashmir some time in future. A bigger assurance was about holding elections there after the delimitation process, which is now being undertaken, is completed. The main aim of the government in holding the meeting was probably to get endorsement from parties for the delimitation process which, it is expected, will give more political weightage to the Jammu region in the Assembly. Kashmir has not had a representative government for three years, and it is necessary to restore the democratic process.
The process needs to be free and fair. It should be noted that even in the District Development Council elections last year, which cannot be said to have been free and fair, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) proved their relevance and dominance. The different political voices of the former state need to be heard and heeded in the spirit of democratic accommodation if the government is serious about its outreach.
The parties seem to have been happy with their interaction with the government, though some of them were disappointed that there was no concrete outcome. There are also differences over whether elections or statehood should come first. All issues of concern, like the scrapping of Article 370, change in regulations relating to residence and jobs, the holding of elections and even the need for wider talks, were raised at the meeting.
Most leaders agreed, perhaps realistically, that a decision on Article 370 should be left to the Supreme Court. PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti stuck to her party’s known positions while the National Conference seems to have softened its responses. Others, too, voiced their views, and an early restoration of statehood was the most common demand. The government should respond positively, without sticking to its strong-arm agenda which has not yielded any good result.