Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a 3-hour meeting with political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, spoke about removing "Dilli ki Doori as well as Dil Ki Doori" and assured his commitment to restoring full statehood at the right time.
Fourteen mainstream Jammu and Kashmir leaders from eight political parties, including four Chief Ministers, attended the three-hour meeting aimed at getting the political process back on course in the region after it lost its special status under Article 370 of the Constitution in 2019 and was downgraded from a state to two Union Territories - Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, reports the NDTV.
According to sources, Modi said statehood would be restored "at an appropriate time" but urged the parties to get on board with delimitation or the redrawing of assembly constituencies to enable elections. Elections can happen soon after delimitation, it was said, and "most participants expressed willingness for it."
"The main focus of the meeting was to strengthen the democratic process. PM said that we are fully committed to the democratic process in J&K. He stressed that the holding assembly elections just like the successful District Development Council elections is a priority," government sources said.
Former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah of the National Conference met with PM Modi last on August 1, 2019. They were stunned when three days later on 4 August, they were detained and hours later, the abrogation of Article 370 was announced in parliament.
Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, while announcing the colossal move in parliament, had said that full statehood would be "restored at an appropriate time". After today's meeting, Shah tweeted: "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."
Omar Abdullah, however, told reporters that "almost all leaders" were unhappy with delimitation only in Jammu and Kashmir. "In other states, delimitation will be taken up in 2026, why has been Jammu and Kashmir been singled out? We told the PM delimitation is not needed," said the former Chief Minister, adding that "trust has broken between the Centre and Kashmir".
The seven-party Gupkar alliance led by Farooq Abdullah and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, accorded front row status with the PM in photos of the meet, pressed for restoration of full statehood and special status.
"We will struggle for 370, be it months or years. We didn't get this (special status) from Pakistan, but from India, Nehru. There can be no compromise on this," Mufti said after the meeting.
Modi said "patiently heard suggestions and inputs from all participants" and expressed happiness that all participants shared their frank and honest views.
This was the Indian goverrnment's first major outreach since August 2019 towards political leaders who have been severely critical of the Article 370 decision. Many of the leaders attending the meeting had been detained as part of security measures to prevent any protests over the sweeping changes.
At the meeting, it was also decided that the Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha would set up a committee to review cases of political prisoners, be it those released - like the Abdullahs and Ms Mufti - and those still in detention.