J&K parties’ 370 stand to decide direction of talks

The key question at the prime minister’s Jammu & Kashmir all-party meeting on Thursday is whether all political stakeholders, barring of course the BJP, are willing to take the process of holding assembly polls forward regardless of their public position on Article 370.

If yes, it would provide much-needed political legitimacy to the delimitation process, which is the first big milestone in the roadmap to hold the J&K assembly elections. If not, then the contest will only drag on, though the Centre will press ahead with its governance plans because for all practical purposes, the sarkari transition to a new order is now largely complete.

Since August 2019, some 205 state laws have been repealed, 130 modified and 890 central laws applied. Domicile laws have been changed, new certificates issued and refugees from partition regularised. Also, J&K now has a formal third-tier governance structure, with elected panchayats and district development councils.

Recently, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha signed off on one of the biggest district allocation grants of 12,600 crore. This will empower the Union Territory’s 20 elected DDCs, giving them a chance to make an impact.

Elections to these councils, it may be noted, were fought on party lines and while the BJP won six, the PAGD cornered seven. Now, parties part of the Gupkar alliance did make the political adjustment to not condition their participation in these polls to their larger position on Article 370. Will they show similar flexibility for assembly polls, which is the logical next step in the process?

These issues, unlike all the speculation, are not going to be addressed in one meeting where every party would like to use the opportunity to first say its piece. But nonetheless, it’s an important sequential moment in the process set into motion by the Centre in August 2019 through the withdrawal of Article 370 from J&K.

That the PM has chosen to himself take the initiative in this effort conveys a sense of political priority on taking the process to its logical conclusion. Now, in trying to achieve its goal, will the Centre consider concessions like granting full statehood to J&K?

Again, that’s not an issue which can be decided in one meeting. Progress on this score would depend a lot on how the political sanctity of the delimitation process is maintained. Put simply, statehood is very much part of the larger equation but then, Kashmir is too complex a gameboard of moving pieces for any stakeholder, including the Centre, to fully reveal its play.

In many ways, the meeting is part of a larger process, not the end of it, where final outcomes can be determined.

The significance of the event, however, lies in the range of political signals it will emit, for both external and domestic audience — from conveying commitment to democracy to showing intent on completing the post-Article 370 process.

And that in itself holds considerable import. Because either way, one thing is clear, the meet is likely to bring the focus back on Article 370, rekindle the debate a bit and put pressure on political parties, including those outside the room, to take a stand on maintaining the sanctity of the democratic process in J&K.

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