PM Narendra Modi (File image: PTI)
Invitations were sent out on Saturday to 14 political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, including four former chief ministers, for participation in a high-level meeting to be chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi here on June 24, which is expected to set the road map for holding assembly elections there.
These leaders of eight political parties -- the National Conference (NC), PDP, BJP, Congress, Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, CPI(M), People's Conference, and the Jammu & Kashmir National 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 at 3 PM on Thursday.
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This will be the prime minister's first interaction with all the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir since August 5, 2019 when the Centre abrogated special the state's status and bifurcated it into union territories. The erstwhile state has been under the Centre's rule since November 2018.
Officials said the Centre is keen on holding assembly elections in the union territory as early as possible, likely to be held either in December or March next year after the Delimitation Commission headed by Justice (retd) Ranjana Desai completes its task of redrawing constituencies in the next few months. The Commission was granted one year's extension in March this year.
All the leaders have been asked to come along with a COVID-19 negative certificate, the officials said.
Among those invited are four former chief ministers -- Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti.
When contacted, Omar Abdullah confirmed having received the invite and said that he would go by the directions of his party.
Sources in the NC said that the senior Abdullah will be consulting party leaders about participation in the meeting.
The PDP chief, when contacted, said that she would be holding an inner-party discussion on Sunday to decide the future course of action.
Four former deputy chief ministers of the erstwhile state -- Congress leader Tara Chand, People's Conference leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig, and BJP leaders Nirmal Singh and Kavinder Gupta -- too have been invited to the meet.
In addition, CPI(M) leader Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami, Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) chief Altaf Bukhari, Sajjad Lone of the People's Conference, J-K Congress head G A Mir, BJP's Ravidner Raina, and Panthers Party leader Bhim Singh have been invited to the meeting.
The Congress and the CPI(M) too have said they will take a call on attending the meeting after deliberations within their respective parties.
BJP Jammu and Kashmir unit president Raina said he is confident that all the leaders invited to the meeting will attend the 'important' deliberation.
The meeting convened by the prime minister is in accordance with the wishes of heads of various political parties who have been seeking time from him and demanding such a meeting for a long time, he added.
The meeting -- the first such exercise since the Centre announced the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir's special status and its bifurcation into union territories in August 2019 -- is likely to be attended by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other central leaders.
The meeting is a result of back-channel talks that were being held with all the political parties from the union territory to decide on the next course of actions, including holding assembly elections as well as restoring statehood to Jammu and Kashmir.
The Union Home Minister, while tabling the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019 in Parliament, gave an assurance that the Centre would grant full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir at an appropriate time.
The talks come seven months after the District Development Council elections in the Union Territory.
In the District development Council elections last year, the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) surged way ahead of the BJP and its allies, including the JKAP, by bagging 110 seats out of 280 with the National Conference emerging stronger with 67 seats within the alliance. The BJP was the single largest party with 75 seats.
The People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) is an amalgam of six parties that was formed in the aftermath of the Centre's August 2019 decisions.
The political mainstream of the union territory, especially those having a strong base in the Kashmir Valley, have been critical of successive administrations of the union territory for neglecting the demands of the people and raised questions on the development initiatives since August 2019.