The all-party meeting on Jammu & 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.
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