“What more do we need to do to prove our allegiance to India? Will we have to die to prove it?" an emotional Sajjad Lone asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday at the all-party meeting on Jammu and Kashmir, as per sources who were present there. The People’s Conference leader recalled days spent in detention and shared with the PM that it was only the personal conduct of a Haryana police inspector that stopped him from becoming bitter against the entire Indian nation. “He would bring me food, give me company in my solitude," Lone told the Prime Minister, according to sources.
Lone was detained under the Public Safety Act in August 2019 when the Centre ended Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and reorganised the state into two union territories. He was released a year later.
Many others at the meeting shared similar stories of detention, and loss of hope. In response, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly told the leaders that the fact that they had gathered for dialogue in spite of such recent experiences spoke a lot about democracy. “This is the beauty of democracy that we are all here, talking," said the PM, as per sources.
The detention of political prisoners was a recurring conversational theme during the three-and-a-half-hour-long meeting. Almost all the leaders from the Valley spoke about the need to release political detainees and bring back those prisoners who were jailed outside Jammu and Kashmir. Home minister Amit Shah, in response, presented data that said out of 16,700 detainees, only 41 remained in custody. He, as per sources, announced the formation of a committee headed by J&K lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha to look into the release of those detained under PSA and also those who are jailed outside Jammu and Kashmir. “Their cases will be reviewed as per the charges against them. Some have been accused of conspiracy, others of harbouring or carrying out the act of terrorism. A view will be taken on how to bring them back to jails of J&K," a source said.
Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti made a reference to Pakistan but, as per sources present in the meeting, she did not repeat her demand for talks with the neighbouring country, which she mentioned while addressing the media in Srinagar on Tuesday. “Her statement at the all-party meet seemed more like a justification of her media statement. She said that every time India has spoken to Pakistan, it has helped Kashmir. She gave the example of ceasefires and said when India and Pakistan have agreed on ceasefires, Kashmiri lives have been saved. When infiltration was brought down, Kashmiris benefitted," a source said. The former chief minister told the PM that the dignity of the people of Jammu and Kashmir must be restored. “Log bahut pareshan hain, saans le to andar kar dete hain (people are very troubled, they are jailed even if they breathe)," she said to the Prime Minister, drawing his attention to the detentions and arrests in the Valley.
National Conference chairman Farooq Abdullah too made a reference to Pakistan when he said that the country is opposed to the Abdullah family, sources said.
The senior Abdullah was invited as the first speaker by union minister Dr Jitendra Singh who was moderating the meeting, but the former CM said he first wanted to hear the others.
While the central government’s assessment is that delimitation, or the redrawing of boundaries of constituencies in J&K, is the big takeaway from the meeting, there seems to be some recalibration of strategy by the Gupkar Alliance— a grouping of mainstream parties from Jammu and Kashmir like the PDP and NC. The three National Conference MPs, Dr Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi, are associate members of the delimitation commission that was set up last year. The Prime Minister at the all-party meeting, however, said that all those who have been invited will play a role in the exercise. This opens up the possibility of wider consultations.
Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, the CPI(M) MLA from Kulgam, however, told news18 that the reasoning of making elections conditional to delimitation was questioned at the meeting. “Assam was also to have delimitation but you postponed it. Then why make elections in Jammu and Kashmir conditional to delimitation? Why can’t we have it with the rest of the country?" he asked. Delimitation is to be taken up in other states in 2026.
Tarigami added that the Centre must hold elections but the participation of the Gupkar Alliance in the delimitation process should not be seen as a “yes/no answer" on which elections will depend.