NEW DELHI — The all-party meeting called by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with leaders from Jammu and Kashmir was scheduled for one-and-a-half hours but went on for more than three hours.

The Narendra Modi government had abrogated Article 370 and Article 35 of the Indian Constitution on Aug. 5, 2019, stripping special powers vested to Jammu and Kashmir when they agreed to join India after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

Fourteen prominent leaders from Jammu and Kashmir participated in the meeting—the first high-level interaction since Aug. 5, 2019, when the state was bifurcated into two union territories.

“Today’s meeting with political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir is an important step in the ongoing efforts towards a developed and progressive Jammu and Kashmir, where all-round growth is furthered,” Modi tweeted.

Modi has noted that a government run by the bureaucracy was no substitute for that run by public representatives. He said he wanted to remove ‘Dilli ki duri’ (distance from Delhi) and ‘dil ki duri’ (distance of heart).

“Our priority is to strengthen grassroots democracy in Jammu and Kashmir,” he tweeted.

“Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and Jammu and Kashmir gets an elected government that gives strength to development trajectory.”

Home Minister Amit Shah emphasized that the government was committed to complete the delimitation process and thereafter elections to the assembly at the earliest with the cooperation of all stakeholders.

Shah urged all the leaders to assist in the early completion of the delimitation process so that assembly elections can be held expeditiously.

“We are committed to ensuring all-round development of Jammu and Kashmir,” Shah tweeted.

“The future of Jammu and Kashmir was discussed, and the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in parliament.”

But Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and leader of National Conference—one of the two main parties in the region—said delimitation was “not needed” in Jammu and Kashmir.

“When Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India like any other state, why separate delimitation,” he said.

“While the rest of the country will have delimitation in 2026, why in Jammu and Kashmir now? On the one hand, the Center claimed that the decision in August 2019 was taken for a complete merger of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India. On the other, Jammu and Kashmir is treated differently by bringing a delimitation commission.”

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said that the Congress, Jammu and Kashmir parties wanted statehood first and then elections, but the Centre’s wants elections first and statehood later.

“The horse pulls the cart. A state must conduct elections. Only such elections will be free and fair,” tweeted P. Chidambaram, former finance minister.

“Why does the government want the cart in front and the horse behind? It is bizarre.”

The Prime Minister has assured all parties that they would be an integral part of the delimitation process and their views would be taken on board. He urged them to participate in the process to ensure early completion. Modi assured that assembly elections would be held expeditiously after the delimitation process is completed.

Several participants in the meeting also raised the issue of restoration of statehood.

Both the Prime Minister and Home Minister reiterated their public commitment to restore statehood.

“People of Jammu and Kashmir are in a lot of difficulties after Aug. 5, 2019,” said Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

“They are angry, upset, and emotionally shattered. They feel humiliated. I told Prime Minister that people of Jammu and Kashmir do not accept how article 370 was abrogated unconstitutionally, illegally, and immorally.”

Abdullah also said the National Conference does not accept the decision to abrogate Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and will fight against it in court.

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Saptak Datta)

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