How Does The Media see The Kashmir All Party Meeting?

SRINAGAR: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to 14 politicians from Jammu and Kashmir has been the first outreach after August 5, 2019. The meeting is taking place on June 24. All the parties invited to the event have decided to join the meeting.

The PAGD meeting on June 9, 2021. It was a skirted alliance as the last time it met, Sajad Lone was part of it. KL Image; Bilal Bahadur

Here are some of the editorials that appeared in various major newspapers, so far.

Table Beckons
June 23, 2021
Telegraph, Kolkata

After monumental disruptions were introduced by the Narendra Modi government in 2019 — Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of statehood and its special provisions

The Centre’s decision to — at long last — kindle the process of political engagement in Kashmir is welcome. The intent is unmistakable: no less than the prime minister is expected to convene a meeting tomorrow that would be attended by Kashmir’s major political stakeholders, including the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a coalition of six parties, which has confirmed its participation. The PAGD’s response is magnanimous. After monumental disruptions were introduced by the Narendra Modi government in 2019 — Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of statehood and its special provisions, the Valley put under a security blanket, speedy internet services denied to its populations — leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party began discrediting Kashmir’s political leadership. Numerous leaders were incarcerated, and their legacies demonized. The BJP’s strategy was to first create a vacuum by discrediting Kashmir’s political constituency and then try and fill that space through such radical interventions as floating supine outfits or creating an alternative tier of governance through the District Development Council. These objectionable experiments faltered because the political legitimacy of the BJP’s adversaries remained intact, forcing Mr Modi and his wise men to eat crow. The present outreach needs to be read in this context. It remains to be seen whether the Centre can reclaim the moral high ground that it willingly ceded almost two years ago.

A cartoon by Kashmir’s legendary cartoonist BAB saying the PADG would fight for 370, then will fight elections and will eventually fight within.

The PAGD is also confronting its own challenges. There seems to be general consensus among its constituents to press for the restoration of Kashmir’s statehood but it is not clear whether its members can achieve similar concurrence on the resurrection of Article 370, which remains a highly emotive issue. Mr Modi would do well not to exploit the gaps, if any, in the alliance because New Delhi needs to negotiate two tricky issues itself: a contentious delimitation exercise and the holding of assembly elections. The Centre must also be mindful of the possibility that success in Kashmir, even if it were to be incremental, could yield diplomatic capital in its future engagements with Islamabad. In fact, a breakthrough in these talks can generate momentum in the dialogue with Pakistan that remains stalled. Given the rapidly changing geostrategic situation in Afghanistan and an inflamed border with China, stability on India’s western border is of critical importance. That stability could well be predicated on the outcome of the political dialogue in Kashmir.

On The Table, In J&K
June 22, 2021
The Indian Express, Delhi

Centre’s invite for talks with PM is vindication for Gupkar parties it had sought to discredit. They must seize political moment

The invitation by the Centre to Jammu & Kashmir’s mainstream political parties for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come not a day too soon. Though the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration — the name for the grouping of these parties — is yet to take a decision on whether to accept the invitation, it is a vindication of sorts for the political leadership of the erstwhile state. In their speeches over the last two years, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah had declared them irrelevant in “Naya Kashmir” that came into existence on August 5, 2019, and pledged to banish them from its public life. They were jailed, accused of looting the state, and later named the “Gupkar gang” allegedly in cahoots with Pakistan, when they came together to demand a roll-back of the 2019 reorganisation of J&K. The outreach now is an admission that two years after those changes, the Centre’s plan to create an entirely new political leadership, be it through the special purpose Apni Party, or via the District Development Council polls last December, did not deliver the expected results. Just as the DDC elections got a measure of legitimacy due to the participation of the mainstream regional parties, the government needs the endorsement of these parties and leaders once again for its delimitation exercise. With its own constituents in Jammu restive over the political vacuum, and given the difficulties in ushering in the promised “development” in the Union Territory, the BJP-led government is now keen to expedite the redrawing of electoral boundaries in J&K, signalling that assembly elections could be held soon.

PAGD, a cartoon by legendary news cartoonist BAB

For Kashmir’s parties, participation in the delimitation process is a double-edged sword. While being invited into the tent for talks with no less than the PM is a measure of their importance, there is little trust since 2019, the outcomes are uncertain, and carry the risk of their being labelled once again as “betrayers” by their constituencies. While the timeline to the assembly election and promised return of statehood is hardly clear, a boycott now would be as good as cutting off any future engagement with Delhi. It would send out a dangerous message in a place where youth continue to be recruited into militant groups. The government may project its outreach to these parties as a necessary U-turn made only after cutting them to size, where their demand has been scaled down from autonomy to statehood. But it would do better to drop its opaqueness and be upfront on its agenda for talks and the roadmap, if it has one.

The government’s decision to engage at the prime ministerial level with J&K politicians it jailed not so long ago may well be due to domestic political considerations. It may not be connected to the back-channel process with Pakistan that led to the resumption of the ceasefire at the Line of Control, or the fast deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. But as Pakistan wrestles with the question of how to re-engage with India without a reversal of the August 2019 decisions, the start of a new phase in J&K may offer an answer.

All party meeting held in New Delhi on August 12, 2016.

Welcome Resumption Of Dialogue In Kashmir
June 22, 2021
The Economic Times, Delhi

Apart from domestic reasons, for New Delhi, it is vital to reemphasise its democratic credentials amidst the geopolitical divide setting in, centred on democracy, with China at one end and the US-led western alliance at the other. India does not want to be clubbed with China and its crackdown in its Muslim-majority province.

The move to resume political engagement in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is welcome. After the break-up of the state into two and demotion from full statehood to Union territory status, along with abrogation of Article 370, the state had been under President’s rule and its political leaders under various degrees of restraint. It is essential to move towards full democracy as in the rest of the country — after all, integration with the Indian mainstream

After being released after eight months, Omar Abdullah with his parents in Srinagar on March 24, 2020. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

It is the avowed goal of the move to remove the state’s special status. It is welcome that no major political outfit has rejected resumption of political engagement in the changed circumstance, waiting for restoration of the status quo to resume dialogue. The all-party meeting, slated for June 24, will bring representatives of 14 parties of J&K, the prime minister and other Union ministers together. So far, political parties with a presence in J&K have been positive about the meeting.

Congress, for instance, has not made the restitution of Article 370 a precondition for its participation. Speculation on the agenda notwithstanding, the discussion would focus on the delimitation exercise, development-related projects and security-related aspects. Representatives of the political parties can be expected to raise the issue of restoring statehood. It would be a mistake to set high expectations from this first all-party meeting, a mere first step in a process of engagement.

Apart from domestic reasons, for New Delhi, it is vital to reemphasise its democratic credentials amidst the geopolitical divide setting in, centred on democracy, with China at one end and the US-led western alliance at the other. India does not want to be clubbed with China and its crackdown in its Muslim-majority province.

Attempt To Revive Democratic Process In Jammu & Kashmir
June 22, 2021
The New Indian Express, Chennai

Washington may be on the same page with New Delhi when it comes to Beijing, but on Kashmir, things may be a little different.

In the midst of all else—sandwiched between phased unlocking and serial waves of pandemic panic—comes the prime minister’s call for an all-party meeting on Jammu & Kashmir, on June 24. The agenda is not quite clear even to the invitees, but the assumption is it would be a step towards restoration of the democratic process in the state. Why else would the loaded word “delimitation” be swirling in the air?

File photo of Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Justice Hasnian Masoodi with PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

When the PM meets the leaders of eight mainstream J&K parties, it will mark the first political initiative since statehood was withdrawn, J&K bifurcated into two Union Territories and its special status via Article 370 ended—not to speak of the large-scale detentions and arrests that followed. Even former CMs and Union ministers—those who had actually been participating in the Indian electoral process—had not been spared long stints of house arrest. Now, PM Modi is trying to win over those same figures, seeking consensus for the delimitation exercise, which began in early June. For elections to take place—Assembly or UT— that process would have to be complete. Could this eventually lead to restoration of statehood? Discussion and dialogue are basic ingredients of any democracy, and a prerequisite for restoration of peace. Of the two main local parties, Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference has indicated his willingness to talk. The PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti is still uncertain, though other members of the Gupkar alliance (of which she’s also a part) seem on board.

In the changed international environment, where US president Joe Biden is committed to an immediate time schedule to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and China is acting up on the borders, it’s imperative that New Delhi puts its house in order. Washington may be on the same page with New Delhi when it comes to Beijing, but on Kashmir things may be a little different. A thaw will harm no one.

Breaking The Ice
June 22, 2021
Telangana Today, Hyderabad

J&K parties must view Centre’s invitation as a confidence-building measure because maximalist positions will not help their cause

Ever since the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir in August 2019, there has been a huge trust deficit between political players of the region and the Centre. The latest invitation to the representatives of various parties for a meeting in New Delhi was the first instance of a political initiative to break the ice. Despite the limitations inherent in the exercise, it must be welcomed and viewed as part of confidence-building measures. While the main agenda of the meeting is to discuss delimitation exercise — the process of redrawing electoral constituencies which could pave the way for elections, there are expectations that the Centre might indicate its willingness to restore statehood. This is one of the key demands of the political parties, including the Congress. There are still differences among the constituencies of the ‘Gupkar Alliance’, a conglomeration of the J&K regional parties, over the terms of engagement with the NDA government. However, it is in the interests of the trouble-torn region that the parties should positively respond to the Centre’s invitation and participate in the dialogue. Boycotting a meeting proposed by the Prime Minister would be counter-productive for them because maximalist positions will not help their cause. The opportunity to engage with the country’s top leadership should not be missed. 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, the trust deficit persists.

NC leader and former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah outside the gate of the Hari Niwas Palace after being set free after eight months in March 24, 2020. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

The prolonged incarceration of the mainstream political leaders, after ending the special status, has accentuated the perceived sense of injustice in the region. The restoration of statehood to J&K has been a precondition of regional parties in the Valley — a legitimate demand given Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment on the floor of Parliament. Restoring the democratic process and bringing back Kashmiri parties into the national political mainstream serves the twin purpose of domestic political stability and international messaging. The all-party initiative must be seen against the backdrop of a thaw in the Indo-Pak relations, marked by Islamabad toning down its rhetoric on the abrogation of Article 370. Any progress, even if it is modest, on the domestic engagement in Kashmir will strengthen the chances of rapprochement with Pakistan — though there must be no let-up on the security front. Creating a political buffer in the Valley will help on the diplomatic front at a time when the Taliban is set to head back to power in Kabul given the prevalence of cross-border terror networks. There is no time to be lost on the part of the Centre to make sincere attempts to win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people.

Case For Restoring Statehood
June 22, 2021
Daily Thanti, Chennai

There are conflicting reports about how far the Centre will go in Thursday’s all-party meeting with leaders from Jammu and Kashmir. But there is no disagreement about the basic agenda of the meeting, which is to discuss the delimitation exercise for redrawing the Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies in the Union Territory.

The significance of this cannot be dismissed – it is a big step in restoring a semblance of the political process in this contested region. Only a semblance, because Jammu & Kashmir was summarily stripped of statehood and Ladakh was hived off as a separate union territory by the Narendra Modi government a couple of years ago.

The parties in the Gupkar alliance – a list that includes the NC, the PDP, the Congress, and the CPM – will be unhappy about being a part of what they regard as a half-baked political process. But the question is whether they can afford to sit it out. They are aware that keeping out carries the risk of their opponents occupying the political space. This is what appears to have persuaded the seven-party Gupkar alliance to contest the first District Development Council elections to the UT held late last year. Politics, whatever else it may be, is also about patronage, and there is a lot to be had by holding on to power at the grassroots level. It is also possible that the leaders realise that they now inhabit a world that is gripped by an enduring pandemic, one that does not have the mind space to pay as much attention as before to their political demands.

The first photograph of Ms Mehbooba after her release from detention. Pic: Twitter

Invitations have been sent to all mainstream parties and it will be interesting to see the level of participation, the granularity of the engagement, and the extent of discordance. It cannot be ignored that some of the leaders, who were placed behind bars only months ago, will come face to face with Modi. The big question on everyone’s mind, of course, is whether the delimitation exercise is just the beginning of a process of speedy restoration or just another step in the process that began with the setting up of a Delimitation Commission in March 2020 to determine the shapes and sizes of the constituencies in consonance with the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganising Act.

If Assembly elections to the Union Territory are held soon, the case for restoring statehood quickly to J&K will become much stronger. After neutralising Article 370 and stripping J&K of statehood, Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared that it would be restored at an appropriate time. The vague rider did nothing to shine any light on when such a restoration would take place. But if fair elections to the UT are held, and a government duly constituted, the case for giving Jammu and Kashmir its due will only become stronger. In politics, opening a chink is often enough to allow the light to come streaming in.

Hope and Promise: On Centre’s J&K Outreach
June 21, 2021
The Hindu, Chennai

The Centre’s move to engage with the political leadership in Kashmir is welcome

Signalling a revival of the political process in Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to meet 14 party leaders from the Union Territory on June 24. Mr Modi’s outreach is taking place nearly two years after the State of Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special constitutional status and dismembered into two Union Territories through an unprecedented exercise of the Centre’s powers. This demonstrates a desirable flexibility in his approach towards resolving the Kashmir issue. Considering the absence of an agenda for the meeting and the prevailing sense of betrayal among Kashmiris, any hope of a quick resolution to the frozen political questions is not realistic. Discontinuing the special status of Kashmir was a core agenda of Hindutva nationalism for decades, which was achieved after the second parliamentary victory of Mr. Modi in 2019.

There has been a concerted campaign to undermine political parties and leaders of the Valley by the BJP and the Centre. Since 2014, the BJP has worked under a premise that the PDP and NC were impediments, not facilitators, to a solution in Kashmir. The BJP’s short-lived alliance with PDP, far from building bridges, created more hostility between the parties and de-legitimised both in the eyes of the public. The leaders of mainstream parties, including former Chief Ministers, were jailed after 2019. The Centre’s idea to incubate a loyal political class made little progress.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US Vice President Joe Biden during former’s US visit a few years before Biden was elected as the President of USA

The political environment has changed, meanwhile. The Joe Biden administration is eager to end the US entanglement in Afghanistan and resist China’s attempts to dominate the world. India is in a stand-off with China on the border. The Biden administration is publicly disapproving of India’s Kashmir policy, while wanting to strategically embrace it. Pakistan is trying to reclaim its strategic advantage. The mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic has dented India’s global image and triggered new political challenges domestically. All these make rigidity less rewarding in India’s Kashmir policy.

All the same, by creating an opportunity to explore a way forward, the Centre has acted wisely, regardless of its reasons. It must engage the political parties in good faith and with an open mind. Kashmir’s governance challenges are not managerial, and corruption investigations, legitimate as they may be, must not be used to debase politics itself. Efforts to tackle corruption and pilferage should not amount to furthering instability in J&K. The Centre appears to have done some groundwork, though it has not revealed any plans yet. The meeting must be a beginning towards a durable and democratic resolution of the Kashmir question and not an exercise in managing the Centre’s image.

Apni Party leaders with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on March 14, 2020.

The J&K Invite
Jun 21, 2021
The Tribune, Chandigarh

 Makes sense for political parties to accept Centre’s offer

The Centre’s invitation to representatives of political parties from both Jammu and Kashmir for a meeting in New Delhi on June 24 can be termed the most significant step to end the political impasse after the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the former state into Union Territories. On the table, as part of the commencement of the political engagement, are likely to be discussions on the delimitation exercise or the process of redrawing electoral constituencies, which could pave the way for the conduct of the elections and even restoration of statehood. A major crackdown and jailing of the mainstream leaders had followed the abrupt end to J&K’s special constitutional status on August 5, 2019. The proposed all-party meeting thus emerges as a major confidence-building measure to end the political uncertainty.

Even though a consensus may elude the constituents of the Gupkar Alliance on the issue of accepting the invite and over the terms of engagement, the opportunity it offers should not be missed. A face-to-face meeting with the country’s top leadership provides a platform to not only gauge the mood in New Delhi, but also put forth grievances and convey the perceived sense of injustice. Much of the onus for any normalisation of the democratic processes lies with the Centre. Events over the past 22 months and the treatment meted out to politicians will inspire little confidence among the parties in the region, despite the successful conduct of the District Development Council elections.

Set up on March 6, 2020, the Delimitation Commission was given a year’s extension in March this year. For the regional parties, participating and then listing reservations could be a far better strategy than merely boycotting discussions on changes that could dramatically alter the political map and fortunes of many. Whatever the apprehensions, engagement is a more prudent choice than crying foul and rejecting the invitation. A maximalist approach has seldom worked in anyone’s favour, however big or small.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulating Home Minister Amit Shah after the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill in Lok Sabha on August 6, 2019.

A Positive Step
June 21, 2021
Hindu Business Line, Chennai

Invitation to J&K leaders to meet the PM points to a move towards assembly polls and restoring statehood

After a relatively peaceful spring and summer this year, there are now indications that the political impasse in Kashmir — which set in with Parliament abrogating Articles 370 and 35A and the carving up of the State into two union territories of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh — may be coming to an end. The first proposed meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 14 political leaders from the Valley later this week i.e. on June 24, is a tangible and welcome outcome of the series of steps, that began with restoration of 4G services, and holding of panchayat, municipal and District Development Council (DDC) elections. Despite the posturing by the more hardline People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti, indications so far are that invitees from the National Conference (NC), Congress, People’s Conference, Apni Party, BJP, CPM and the National Panthers’ Party will attend the meeting. The meeting will likely discuss restoration of Statehood, holding of Assembly elections and furthering the delimitation exercise.

Incarcerated mainstream political leaders in SKICC that was declared as sub jail after the abrogation of article 370.

The developments in the Valley, where all players have moved from their respective positions, should also be placed in the context of the US’ plan to pull its troops out of Afghanistan before September 11. For preventing any escalation of violence coinciding with the departure of the US troops from Afghanistan, the cooperation of Pakistani intelligence and military assistance cannot be understated. The US would seek to balance its strategic objectives here with its other geo-political preoccupation in the East — limiting Chinese dominance, for which it needs India’s support. Aiding the US in bringing Pakistan on board for keeping peace not just in Afghanistan but also on the Line of Control (LoC) with India are the UAE and Saudi Arabia which have developed a strong relationship with India. Some of these Gulf States have worked towards preventing Afghanistan’s further descent into conflict and terrorism — the UAE in particular seems to have engaged Pakistan in exercising restraint. There were reports of meetings between Indian and Pakistani security chiefs in UAE following the sudden announcement of ceasefire on February 25 this year at the LoC. Finally, during his trip to the US in end-May, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar maintained that “at the end of the day, the two neighbours have to find ways.” The march along this road has begun.

For the ruling BJP, it would be a feather in its cap if the Prime Minister were to announce Assembly elections and resumption of statehood status for Jammu and Kashmir, although it has not succeeded in its objective to upend the “dynasts” in the Valley. In Ladakh, where the demand for UT status by the Buddhist majority precedes the grant of this status in August 2019, status quo is likely to prevail. Notwithstanding the scars of a strict lockdown and incarceration of the local leadership, a healing process may have just begun in the Valley.

In Kashmir, A Political Opening
June 20, 2021
Hindustan Times, Delhi

The Centre’s outreach was long overdue. Revive the electoral process in J&K and begin the process of winning Kashmiri hearts and minds.

The Centre’s decision to invite Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) political forces for a meeting, to be chaired by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, on June 24 must be welcomed by all stakeholders.

Ever since the constitutional changes effected in August 2019, there has been a democracy deficit in the region. Political leaders were detained, communication was snapped, and political activities and protests were controlled. All of this sparked both domestic opposition as well as international criticism. Over the past two years, however, the Centre has released top leaders, held panchayat elections, appointed a new lieutenant governor, and opened up the space for political activity. But it was not enough to convince J&K’s mainstream formations, particularly the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, to engage with the political process.

This door has now been opened. While there have been mixed reports about what is on the agenda, three steps are crucial. The first is a categorical commitment by the PM to abide by the principles stated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to address the situation in Kashmir — humanity, democracy, Kashmiriyat. The second is a road map for restoring the electoral process through an expedited delimitation exercise which is both fair and seen to be fair by all stakeholders in J&K. But the third crucial step is beginning the process of restoring statehood to J&K. This has been a precondition of regional parties in the Valley, and it is in line with the PM’s commitment on the floor of the House.

Prime minister Narendra Modi being received at the Srinagar airport by the governor, Chief Minister and other cabinet ministers. A J&K information Dept Photo

Restoring democracy and bringing back Kashmiri parties into the national political mainstream is key for India’s own domestic political stability. But it also has international implications, and was perhaps a reason for the outreach at this time. There is an emerging detente with Pakistan, where Islamabad has toned down its rhetoric on the effective abrogation of Article 370. And domestic engagement in Kashmir could well lead to a degree of rapprochement with Pakistan — though there must be no let-up on the security front given that there are enough elements within the Pakistani establishment, which would use this moment to wreck any chances of peace. Creating a political buffer in Kashmir will also help at a time when the Taliban is heading back to power in Kabul given the prevalence of cross-border terror networks. With its outreach, the Centre must begin the process of winning Kashmiri hearts and minds.


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