A significant step to advance the restoration of the political process in the Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir got underway yesterday during the course of the meeting PM Modi had with leaders of political parties from the region. Optics took priority as it was the first formal meeting leaders from Kashmir Valley had with Modi after the key elements of Article 370 were neutralized in August 2019. That legislative step was accompanied by long detentions of leaders from Kashmir. That they were now meeting GoI's top leadership accounts for the importance of the meeting's symbolism.
Significantly, Article 370 didn't prove to be a negotiation-killer. A constitution bench of the Supreme Court is seized of the legal issues pertaining to Article 370. Political leaders from Kashmir indicated that they will abide by the outcome. This is most welcome.
Restoration of the political process began last year through direct elections of sarpanches and members of the District Development Councils. The outcome suggested that old political parties such as NC and PDP retain enough support to make them essential to the deepening of the political process. DDC elections were followed by the restoration of the 4G services in February.
Peace in Kashmir has been hostage to cross-border terrorism. With a thaw in India's relationship with Pakistan, this is an opportune moment to take the next few steps in the political process. The most important one is to complete the ongoing delimitation exercise.
The current exercise of the J&K has run into a problem as the associate members from Kashmir have not participated in the delimitation committee meetings. The presence of all political stakeholders is essential to cover all aspects and ensure the credibility of the process. Hopefully, this meeting will persuade some political parties to shed their reluctance and join the process. The long-term goal is the restoration of statehood. GoI recently approved a financial package of Rs 28,400 crore spread over 16 years for J&K's industrial development. This is a large commitment. In a democracy, such spending needs to be overseen by an elected government.
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