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J-K Parties Get into Huddle Over PM's June 24 Meet; Congress Raises Pitch for Statehood Restoration

(From left) Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. (PTI File)

(From left) Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. (PTI File)

The deliberations came ahead of a joint meeting of People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration to be held on Tuesday to discuss their stand on the Centre's invite.

Hectic political consultations were on in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday within mainstream regional parties including the National Conference (NC) and the PDP over an all-party meeting to be chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 24, while the Congress raised the pitch for immediate restoration of statehood to J-K.

The deliberations came ahead of a joint meeting of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of six political parties including the NC, PDP, CPM, Awami National Conference, CPI and JK People’s Movement, to be held on Tuesday to discuss their stand on the Centre’s invite.

As the day began, a two-hour-long political affairs committee meeting of Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP was held. “The party unanimously authorised the party president to take a final decision on the matter," PDP chief spokesperson Syed Suhail Bukhari told reporters outside Mufti’s residence after the meeting.

Bukhari said a meeting of the PAGD will take place on Tuesday where the member parties will discuss the issue and then a final decision will be taken on whether to participate or not in the meeting called by the prime minister. “After two days, the PAGD is meeting, this issue will be discussed. The members of the alliance will give their suggestions and a decision on the way forward will be taken there and afterwards, a decision will be taken over the participation of the meeting," he said.

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However, the release of Mehbooba’s uncle Sartaj Madani from preventive detention after nearly six months and her party’s jailed youth president Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, charge-sheeted by the National Investigation Agency and the Jammu and Kashmir police, being brought back to Jammu from Kashmir is seen as a move to ensure that Mehbooba participates in the meeting. The PM’s meeting with all political parties from Jammu and Kashmir is part of the Centre’s initiatives to bolster political processes, including holding assembly elections, in the union territory.

Former chief minister Farooq Abdullah also started the process of consultations with senior leaders of the NC including party general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar and provincial president of Kashmir Nasir Aslam Wani. Others who attended the meeting were Chowdhary Mohammad Ramzan, Sheikh Mustafa Kamal, Mian Altaf, Mubarak Gul, Sakina Itoo, Khalid Najeeb Suhurwardy and two Members of Parliament Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi.

“The consultations are on. After the party president is done talking to party leaders, a meeting of the PAGD will take place where the member parties will discuss the issue and take a collective decision," Wani told reporters after the meeting. Invitations were sent out to 14 political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, including four former chief ministers, for participation in the high-level meeting to be chaired by the PM, which is expected to set the road map for holding assembly elections in the UT.

The leaders of eight political parties — the NC, PDP, BJP, Congress, Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, CPI(M), People’s Conference, and the Panthers Party — were telephonically invited by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla for participation in the meeting to be held at the prime minister’s residence in the national capital at 3 PM on Thursday. This will be the prime minister’s first interaction with all the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir since August 5, 2019 when the central government abrogated the state’s special status and bifurcated it into UTs. The erstwhile state has been under the Centre’s rule since June 2018.

In Delhi, the Congress said the Centre should accept the demand for restoration of statehood to J-K in the interest of the Constitution and democracy. Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, however, did not say whether the party will participate in the June 24 meeting or not.

Surjewala drew attention to the August 6, 2019 resolution of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) where the party clearly demanded the restoration of full statehood for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. “We believe that undoing it is a direct attack on democracy and the constitutional principles," he told reporters when asked about the issue.

Surjewala said the Congress believes that grant of full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir as also holding elections, so that people can elect their representatives and have an assembly of their own to carry on the affairs of the state instead of a rule by Delhi, is the only way forward to guarantee full restoration of democratic rights in Jammu and Kashmir. “It is now for the prime minister and the BJP to decide whether to hold a meeting or to accept the demand of the Indian National Congress in the interest of constitution, democracy and the people to restore full statehood to the state of Jammu and Kashmir," Surjewala said.

In a related development, Panthers Party, whose chief Bhim Singh has been invited for talks, staged a protest in Jammu against the alleged “Kashmir appeasement policy" of the central government. The party was unhappy that a majority of the leaders invited to the all-party meeting were from the Valley.

Singh said he is meeting the party leaders on Monday to discuss the invitation and take a decision about his participation. “I have received an invitation for the meeting and will discuss it with party leaders tomorrow (Monday) to make a decision," the JKNPP president told PTI.

A group of party activists led by JKNPP chairman and former minister Harsh Dev Singh burnt an effigy symbolising the BJP-led central government outside the party headquarters here. “The government invited all Kashmir-based parties for the meeting but ignored the leadership of Jammu.

“Altaf Bukhari’s recently launched Apni Party and Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference, which are yet to be recognised by the Election Commission of India, have got the invitation while only Bhim Singh was invited from Jammu," Harsh Dev Singh told reporters.

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