Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday held a three-hour-long meeting with the leaders of political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, reported ANI.

This is the first meeting between the Centre and political parties from the erstwhile state since its special status was abrogated and was split into two Union Territories in August 2019. No specific agenda was decided for the meeting, but the Union government was expected to discuss delimitation, or, the process of redrawing Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies in the Union Territory.

After the meeting concluded on Thursday evening, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said, according to ANI: “The Home Minister said the government is committed to granting statehood to Jammu and Kashmir. All leaders demanded full-fledged statehood.”

Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti told reporters that the abrogation of special status has left the citizens of the Union Territory “angry, upset and emotionally shattered”. “I told PM that people of J&K does not accept the manner in which Article 370 was abrogated – unconstitutionally, illegally and immorally,” she said, adding that they will restore the special status even if it takes years.

The PDP chief added that the Centre should speak with Pakistan to restore the suspended trade as it was a source of employment for many residents.

Mufti, Azad, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah, Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party’s Bhim Singh and nine other leaders from a total of eight political parties attended the meeting.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Bharatiya Janata Party chief JP Nadda were also at the meeting, The Indian Express reported.

After the meeting, Modi said that Indian democracy’s biggest strength was the ability to sit across a table and exchange views. “I told the leaders of J&K that it is the people, especially the youth who have to provide political leadership to J&K, and ensure their aspirations are duly fulfilled,” the prime minister tweeted.

Shah said that the Union government was committed to ensuring the all-round development of Jammu and Kashmir. “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,” he tweeted.

In another tweet, the home minister said that the meeting was conducive. “It was stressed to strengthen the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir,” he added.

‘Complete unanimity for restoring peace’: People’s Conference leader 

After the meeting concluded, People’s Conference leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig said that all political leaders demanded the restoration of statehood of Jammu and Kashmir. He quoted the prime minister saying that all matters will be addressed after the delimitation exercise ends. “It was a satisfactory meeting,” he said. “There was complete unanimity for restoring peace in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Azad said that the Congress kept five demands before the government – conduct Assembly elections to restore democracy, grant statehood soon, rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits in the Union Territory, release all political detainees and also on domicile rules.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said that he told the prime minister that the party does not stand with the August 5, 2019 decision. “We’re not ready to accept it,” he said. “But we will not take law into hands. We’ll fight this in court. We also told PM that there’s been breach of trust between the state and the Centre. It’s the Centre’s duty to restore it.”

Abdullah said that the residents of Jammu and Kashmir do not like the status of a Union Territory and want full statehood restored with J&K Cadres. “All leaders demanded full statehood for Jammu and Kashmir,” he added. “Both PM and HM said the work for elections and restoring statehood should start soon. Azad Sahib said that first statehood should be restored and then elections should be held. On this, the PM didn’t say anything.”

Farooq Abdullah also reiterated his son’s comments, saying that he told Modi that statehood means reverting even the Indian Administrative Services cadres of Jammu and Kashmir, reported PTI. He said that it was important to restore statehood at the earliest so that other democratic exercises can take place.

People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone said that the meeting was held in a very cordial manner. “We came out quite positive that hopefully there will be some delivery for the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari also said that the meeting was conducive and that Modi heard all the matters of the political leaders.

BJP leader Kavinder Gupta said he thinks the time has come for the political process to begin in the Union Territory. “Election will also be held after the delimitation process,” he said. “Assembly will be constituted there once again.”

The BJP leader, however, added one should not even think that special status under Article 370 would be restored.

Before the meeting, Farooq Abdullah had refused to speak about the demands that his party will raise. He also refused to comment on Mufti’s remarks that political parties want the special status restored. “Mehbooba Mufti is the president of her party, why should I speak on what she said,” Abdullah told reporters.

However, Communist Party of India leader Yousuf Tarigami said that his party will urge the Centre and the prime minister to reconsider the restoration of special status. “Our expectations are that it [the meeting] should be a good beginning to resolve the issues, concerns of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh,” he said. “Whatever has been done to us is not within the limits of the Constitution. Our rights, guaranteed under the provisions of the Constitution of India, have been snatched from us”.

Bhim Singh also demanded the restoration of the special status of the erstwhile state.

On Wednesday, the Election Commission had held a virtual meeting with the deputy commissioners of all Jammu and Kashmir districts to discuss details about the existing electoral constituencies.

Delimitation of Jammu and Kashmir

In February 2020, the Centre began the process of delimitation of constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir. A Delimitation Commission was set up in March under the leadership of retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai. The chief election commissioner of India and Jammu and Kashmir election commissioner are the ex-officio members of the commission.

According to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, which was passed by Parliament in August 2019 and came into effect in October 2019, Jammu and Kashmir will have a legislative Assembly while the Union Territory of Ladakh will not.

The reorganisation Act had stipulated that the number of seats in the Jammu and Kashmir state Assembly will be raised from 107 to 114 and delimitation will provide for reserved seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.