Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti on Friday said the Centre’s reaching out to the political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir was proof that things had not gone the way the Bharatiya Janata Party government had planned, reported NDTV.

She added that the Centre needed the Gupkar Alliance to reach out to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Do you really believe that if the situation on ground was all hunky dory, then the Centre would have invited the Gupkar Alliance for a talk?” said Mufti. “Things are clearly not how they intended it to be. They know that they need Gupkar to reach out to the people, hence they are now meeting us.”

Mufti’s comments came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a three-hour-long meeting with the leaders of political parties in Jammu and Kashmir. This was 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.

Mufti said the situation on ground in Jammu and Kashmir was not what the Centre was portraying to the world. “There is so much oppression in Jammu and Kashmir,” she added. “People are unable to even breathe. People are unhappy and feeling suffocated. They [the Centre] have realised that things have not gone as they had planned, and maybe out of little empathy that they had left, they decided to meet us.”

Asked why the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a coalition of six parties, agreed to meet the central leaders, Mufti said it was out of respect for the Prime Minister’s Office. As many as 14 leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, were present at 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 PDP chief said she hoped the prime minister would stick to his words. “What one can hope for is that when the prime minister says “dil ki dooriyaan kam karni hai [a Hindi phrase that means bringing people together] that he means it,” she added.

Mufti, however, asserted that she would not contest the elections unless Article 370 and Article 35A were restored. “I will do this because otherwise people will feel that resolution of Article 370 is just a slogan for me and I am just doing politics over it,” she said.

The PDP chief underlined the importance of measures to build confidence among voters before holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Since the day Article 370 and 35A were scrapped, the people fear that the demography will be changed, so the Centre needs to address these fears,” she added. “Another thing is that jobs must be secured for the local youth. For confidence-building measures, they need to do much more. They need to release many other prisoners apart from our party leaders.”

Among the measures she listed were lifting “the siege” and stopping the harassment of students and journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. “Journalists these days get notices for their reporting, so people can’t report freely,” she added. “Security forces pick up people for the smallest of things and are harassed.”

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

The Union home minister 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.

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