Minutes of The Meeting

The All Party Meeting that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi chaired last week could be a turning point for Kashmir politicians. Yawar Hussain talks to some of them to construct a ringside view of the meeting and discern the emerging narrative of democratisation and development but only after delimitation

Perhaps the first photograph that shows the Jammu and Kashmir politicians at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Delhi residence on June 24, 2021, on the occasion of All Party Meeting that he hosted. This was the first outreach of the Government of India for Jammu and Kashmir politicians.

With the first political outreach to unionist politicians’ post-August-5 ending with their reiteration of the stated positions publicly, the story emerging from inside the conference room at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence has interesting details.

Jammu and Kashmir politicians revealed that while August-5 decisions were regretted by some, not all pitched for the restoration of Article 370 in the manner they said they did it outside. The restoration of the statehood, delimitation and subsequent assembly polls dominated the debate, however.

Article 370 On Backburner

Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party Chief Professor Bhim Singh told Kashmir Life that “nobody” spoke anything about the restoration of Article 370 including the People’s Alliance For Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), which was represented by three former chief ministers from Jammu and Kashmir and Communist Party of India (M) leader Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami.

Singh’s comments are in stark contrast to the claims of the PAGD leaders who told the media persons that they informed the Prime Minister that the August 5 decision was “unacceptable” to them.

Singh said that Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad was the first to speak at the meeting as Dr Farooq Abdullah, who heads the National Conference and the PAGD, said that he would talk later.

“Azad at the outset said that Congress doesn’t want to talk on Article 370 as it is subjudice,” Singh said, adding that Azad went on talking about the work done by the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947.

“Azad mainly praised his own tenure as chief minister of J&K. He spoke about his tenure for 45 minutes.”

Azad, Singh said made no reference to the manner in which Article 370 was read down.

“They (Congress) demanded the restoration of statehood and elections,” Singh said.

The All Party meeting in progress at the residence of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Interestingly, Singh said, Mehbooba Mufti pitched for talks with Pakistan and China because they hold the part of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir under their possession. “She (Mehbooba) said talking to them doesn’t harm India’s interest.”

Singh said that Mehbooba only made a reference to Article 370 in the context that nothing good has been achieved by its reading down. “She said nothing more on the matter,” Singh said.

Mehbooba Mufti told media persons after the meeting that she had informed the Prime Minister that the people of Jammu and Kashmir feel “humiliated by the unconstitutional, illegal and immoral way in which the Article 370 was read down.”

“People won’t accept it,” Mehbooba said she told the meeting.

As for the NC president and the PAGD chief Dr Farooq Abdullah, Singh said he mainly spoke about the “sacrifices” made by his family including his father Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah for India.

“Farooq told the Prime Minister that for siding with the national cause, Pakistan wanted to kill his whole family,” Singh said.

The Prime Minister, Singh saidassured the restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir but didn’t talk about Article 370 citing the matter was in the court.

“All other Kashmiri parties also didn’t talk about restoration of Article 370,” Singh said while referring to the Peoples Conference.

Those 689 Days

‘Matter Is Subjudice’

Peoples Conference leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig, who was the first to come out of the meeting flanked by his party chairman Sajad Gani Lone, said that Article 370 was brought up by Dr Farooq Abdullah but he interrupted him citing the matter was subjudice.

A group photograph of 14 Jammu and Kashmir participants in the All Party Meeting that Prime minister Narendra Modi hosted on June 24, 2021 at his official residence. The photograph marked the beginning of the meeting.

“I told Farooq Abdullah that there is a judgment of the Supreme Court that there should be no commentary about a matter that is pending before the court,” Baig said, adding that Dr Farooq Abdullah understood his point and then didn’t raise it further in the meeting.

Baig said that he informed the government of India that reading down of Article 370 has a good standing in the court for those who have challenged it but this meeting wasn’t for that discussion.

“I told them that Clause (3) of Article 370 stated that it can be scrapped only by the concurrence of the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, which ceased to exist after 1956,” Baig said.“The matter wasn’t further discussed.”

Baig said that Ms Mufti referred to the reading down of Article 370 stating that the government of India should have first consulted stakeholders which it didn’t.

A senior politician, outside PAGD constituents, wishing anonymity said that Baig at the start of the meeting informed the Prime Minister that he isn’t representing any party though he is a member of the Peoples Conference.

How Did Media Comment On The Outcome of All Party Meeting?

‘Not Taken On Board’

BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta told Kashmir Life that Dr Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti made references to Article 370 in the context that the Government of India didn’t consult anyone on the matter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CPI(M) leader M Yousuf Tarigami greeting each other on June 24, 2021, on the occasion of All Party meeting. BJP Jammu and Kashmir president, Ravinder Raina and Muzaffar Hussain Baig are also seen in the frame.

“They said they understood that BJP government did it because it was in their agenda but not taking anyone into confidence was not the right move,” Gupta quoted Farooq and Mehbooba as giving said.

Gupta said that Mehbooba praised former BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and suggested to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the people of Jammu and Kashmir expected him to follow Vajpayee when the PDP-BJP alliance was stitched. “They didn’t raise inside what they told the media outside.”

Mehbooba, Gupta said, also asked the centre to provide Indian citizenship to Pakistani origin wives of former militants along with a package for surrendered militants. “She sought opening of trade routes like Uri-Muzafarabad,” Gupta said.

The Congress unit, Gupta added, didn’t want a discussion on Article 370 adding that Sajad Lone and Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari didn’t raise the restoration of Article 370 at all.

In this December 2007 photograph, Ghulam Nabi Azad is seen listening to Narendra Modi. Then, both of them were the Chief Ministers.

“In fact, Sajad said that why does he have to prove loyalty to the nation when his father was assassinated by militants,” Gupta said.

A Congress leader who was part of the meeting said that whatever was spoken inside was not spoken outside by any of the political parties from Kashmir.

Dr Farooq Abdullah told the Prime Minister that his (Abdullah’s) family wasn’t even trusted after 74 years. He said that his family was hated by Pakistan since 1947 and that they have sacrificed so much,” Gupta said.

Farooq, Gupta said, told the meeting that Kashmiri politicians are called New Delhi’s “brokers” in Kashmir while their patriotism is looked at with suspicion in the rest of India.

“Farooq (Abdullah) Sahib told the meeting that the Kashmiri politicians have nowhere to go after August 5.”

Another leader outside PAGD, who was part of the meeting said, “Farooq (Abdullah) Sahib reminded the Prime Minister that he even went to Geneva in 1995 on behalf of the government of India.”

As for Mehbooba Mufti, Gupta said, that she just mentioned Article 370 in her reference that nobody in Jammu and Kashmir was consulted on the matter.

“No one, except the Congress, said the same thing inside and outside,” the Congress leader part of the meeting said.. He quoted Mehbooba reminding the Prime Minister about the association between Bharatiya Janata Party and PDP from the days when Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister.

“She told the Prime Minister about the parleys and meetings that happened leading up to the coming together of PDP and BJP in Jammu and Kashmir in 2015,” the leader said. He also quoted Mehbooba having told the PM about the detention of the sons of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chief Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai, without naming the leader.

About Sajad Lone, the Congress leader said, that he told the meeting how his father was killed by militants.

“Sajad narrated the story from the days when he was studying abroad to getting arrested and then being helped by a non-local police officer in those days. He became emotional. He (Sajad) said that he realised post-August 5 that some decisions on Jammu and Kashmir were good,” the Congress leader said adding that Sajad’s party colleague, Muzzafar Hussain Baig told the PM that if they debate Article 370 in the meeting, it would be contempt of court.

Present But Silent

The meeting had seven politicians from Jammu including the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Dr Jitendra Singh.

The list of politicians who didn’t speak included National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah; Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mirformer deputy chief minister Tara Chand; BJP president Ravinder Raina and former deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta.

Muzzafar Hussain Baig of the Peoples Conference said that only nine people spoke in the meeting including Dr Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mehbooba Mufti, Sajad Lone, Altaf Bukhari, Bhim Singh, Nirmal Singh and Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami.

PAGD’s Take

PAGD spokesperson Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said that Muzzafar Hussain Baig was the only one who stood up stating that any discussion on Article 370 in this meeting would be contempt of court.

At the All Party Meeting that Prime Minister Nrendra Modi hosted on June 24, 2021, he is seen interacting with PAGD spokesman and communist leader M Yousuf Tarigami.

He told Kashmir Life that Azad didn’t wish to talk on Article 370 citing that the matter is in court. “They (Congress) raised other demands including elections and statehood but were silent on Article 370,” Tarigami said.

Defending the PAGD members on allegations of double talk, Tarigami said Dr Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti raised the issue of Article 370 along with him.

“We spoke and told the government of India that whatever happened on August 5 isn’t acceptable to us. Whoever said that we didn’t talk about Article 370 or said something else inside the meeting is lying,” Tarigami said.

He said that Peoples Conference’s Sajad Lone and JKAP’s Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari didn’t talk about restoration of Article 370 but did mention that there is “dissatisfaction” among the people on the matter.

“The tone of some people on 370 might have been different than ours but they did raise it,” he said.

Without naming anyone, Tarigami said: “Some people said that they understand the government of India’s compulsion on reading down the Article 370.”

The communist party leader, however, said, that the PAGD didn’t get any assurance from the government of India over the restoration of Article 370.

“I told the Prime Minister that this meeting is a welcome step but they should have held a similar meeting before August 5 decisions were taken,” Tarigami said.

Meanwhile, National Conference Vice President and former chief minister Omar Abdullah addressed a press conference on Saturday after returning from New Delhi. He told media persons that they informed the Prime Minister that they will fight for the restoration of Article 370 even if takes them 70 weeks or 70 months.

“We told them BJP took 70 years to read down Article 370. We will fight for its restoration,” Omar said adding that PAGD didn’t address the press jointly because they were called to the meeting individually. He said NC wants delimitation, statehood and then elections while the government of India wants delimitation, elections and then statehood.

He said only Ghulam Nabi Azad and Muzzafar Hussain Baig said that Article 370 is subjudice. “We still believe that when BJP discussed Ram Mandir while being subjudice why can’t we discuss it.”

A photograph from All Party Meeting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted at his official residence in Delhi on June 24, 2021. Fourteen politicians including four Chief Minister’s and four Deputy Chief Minister’s participated were invited.

Statehood And Elections

While all the parties including the PAGD constituents sought the restoration of statehood and elections, the government of India reminded the invitees that they will restore statehood at an appropriate time as they have promised it on the floor of the parliament

The demand was for the restoration of statehood and then a subsequent election was raised by Azad, who was the first one to speak in the meeting. Congress’s Mir said the government of India had no agenda for the meeting.

“We set the agenda of the meeting through the five points we presented initially including restoration of statehood and elections,” Mir said, adding that it was these points that were debated and agreed in the meeting by most parties along with the government.

“I have also asked for a rehabilitation process for Kashmir Pandits, the release of political prisoners, and domicile rules whereby the centre guarantees jobs for the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Azad said.

Azad was echoed by Farooq Abdullah on the demand for restoration of statehood.

Farooq said that he urged the Prime Minister to work towards building trust in Jammu and Kashmir by ensuring that its full statehood is restored.

“There is a loss of trust which needs to be restored immediately and for that, to begin with, the Centre should work for the restoration of complete statehood to Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

“I conveyed to the prime minister that statehood means reverting even the IAS and IPS cadres of Jammu and Kashmir. The state has to be in totality,” he said. “It was vital for the Centre to restore the identity of Jammu and Kashmir at the earliest so that other democratic exercises could be carried forward.”

Apni Party founder, Syed Altaf Bukhari greets Prime Minister Narindra Modi at the latter’s residence on June 24, 2021 when Government of India did the first outreach of Jammu and Kashmir politicians. In this photograph, Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha is seemingly introducing the Kashmir politician to the Prime Minister.

The demand for restoration of statehood was also raised by Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party.

Bukhari said that Apni Party’s paramount demands were the restoration of statehood, early assembly elections, and delimitation.

The restoration of the statehood was also raised by Baig along with BJP’s Nirmal Singh and Panther’s Party’s Bhim Singh.

Interestingly, the government of India including the Prime Minister and Home Minister both assured all parties that statehood would be restored at an “appropriate” time.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Omar Abdullah said both Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah assured them that they were committed to the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood.

Interestingly both former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have at different times stated that they won’t contest elections till Jammu and Kashmir has a union territory status.

However, their respective parties have said that it was their personal opinion. Both the parties contested DDC polls.

Optics Only

Decoding The Meet

The broader question lingers as to what led New Delhi to suddenly reach out to the Jammu and Kashmir politicians more particularly to the PAGD, which was once termed as ‘Gupkar Gang by Home Minister Amit Shah. The answer is said to lie in the factors ranging from domestic to international.

A top Taliban leader shaking hands with the former US Secretary of State Mike Pampeo during his special visit to Qatar where an intra-Afghan dialogue is in progress for over a year but without any visible outcome.

There is unanimity in all the strategic affair experts that it is linked directly to the fast-changing situation in the region especially after the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. The Print’s National Strategic Affairs Editor Jyoti Malhotra believes that tying all these threads together today is the long arm of the US, which is hoping that a modicum of regional stability will allow a peaceful exit for US and NATO troops from Afghanistan and kick-start a process in which each side believes it can gain something from the ensuing peace.

“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,” an editorial in The Hindu reads. “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 Covid19 pandemic has dented India’s global image and triggered new political challenges domestically. All these make rigidity less rewarding in India’s Kashmir policy.”

Writing in Inverse JournalThe Indian Express’s Muzamil Jaleel argues: ““That New Delhi has called this meeting with the pro-India political camp of J&K is a clear indication that the Sangh Parivar’s Kashmir project has run up against some roadblocks. On the ground, the outreach isn’t seen as a “change of heart” on New Delhi’s part but a shift in strategy.” He believes that installing a “local political face” is vital to avoid bumps in the road as Delhi pushes to achieve the larger strategic goals behind the decisions of August 5, 2019.

Even the PAGD constituent party leaders are baffled and were caught off-guard by the sudden outreach.

A PDP leader wishing anonymity told Kashmir Life that there is no local pressure on Delhi to initiate the move. “They (New Delhi) either had international considerations or they want to normalise what they did on August 5,” he said.

The middle rung in the National Conference shares the same views.

A senior leader said Delhi reaching out to the mainstream after trying to crush them in itself states everything. “They want to start an electoral process so that a local government comes in and August 5 decisions are a thing of the past,” the leader said. “Everyone in Kashmir continues to talk about August 5. They want that to change.”

But insiders said it was not as abrupt as it seems. “The Government of India was working on this for three months, at least,” one informed. “Both sides used the levers they had.” The release of Sartaj Madni, Naeem Akhter was part of the process. “Why was Waheed Parra taken to Jammu and brought back overnight?”

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