SRINAGAR: Eight former legislators led by Syed Altaf Bukhari on Tuesday became the first group of mainstream politicians to open the channels of communication with the office of Jammu and Kashmir's Lieutenant Governor and making a slew of demands including restoration of statehood.
The delegation met Lt Governor G C Murmu in Jammu and submitted a 15-point memorandum demanding rights of people over land and jobs be safeguarded, detainees be released and cases against youth be withdrawn among others.
"We have met Murmu sahib and brought to his notice the concern about J&K post abrogation of Article 370. It was a meeting in our personal capacity," Bhukhari, who was the finance minister in the PDP-BJP coalition government told PTI.
The leaders said to win over the confidence of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the Centre will have to re-examine its decades-old policies vis-à-vis Kashmir and allay the apprehensions among people in a just and humane manner.
Depending solely on security measures and dealing with peoples' political aspirations through the law and order prism will always have its old tested repercussions, they said.
"Since the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir's special status embedded in Article 370 of the Indian constitution and bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories - Jammu and Kashmir with a legislature and Ladakh without one - the majority of its residents are yet to reconcile with this decision," the memorandum reads.
"For the residents of J&K, the issue of statehood holds more emotional importance than legal. Statehood for these people is solidification of the idea of pluralism and respectful coexistence," it said.
"In view of keeping the pluralistic ethos and diversity intact, it is more than essential that restoration of statehood to J&K is considered as an immediate requirement for keeping up the spirit of coexistence and allowing this mosaic to continue to shine in this part of the country."
"We demand restoration of statehood including establishment of a Legislative Council and in providing thereto reservation of seats for socially and economically backward classes, art and culture, languages, literature and sports," it said.
The memorandum said that economic development can be ensured only if there is normalcy and stability in the region.
"It is the assurances given under that Article and the erosion of special privileges that created the situation in the Valley over the past three decades," it said.
The other members of the delegation were Ghulam Hassan Mir (president, Democratic Party Nationalist), Mohammad Dilawar Mir (former minister), Zaffar Iqbal (former PDP MLC), Javed Hassan Beig, Noor Mohammad Shiekh, Choudhary Qamar Hussain and Raja Manzoor Ahmad (all former PDP MLAs).
Most of the leaders were part of the PDP till the fall of the PDP-BJP government in 2018.
Ghulam Hassan Mir was in PDP till 2008.
The meeting comes on the fourth death anniversary of PDP founder Mufti Mohammad Mohammad Sayeed.
The delegation also demanded the restoration of J&K Bank's functional dominion, reviving agriculture and horticulture sectors, support for industry and manufacturing sector, tourism and allied industries and their revival.
"People of Jammu and Kashmir have always seen J&K Bank as a repository of trust and confidence of their economic interests. But unfortunately, this trust and confidence seems to have been shaken for the last few years," it said.
"Not only its control over financial matters but its overall functioning has been unnecessarily put to a question mark," it added.
On the issue of safeguarding rights over land and jobs, the memorandum said that the abrogation of Article 370 and, in particular, annulling Article 35A on account of being "discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir" and it being "an obstacle in the development of the state" has outstanding issues.
"This most important issue can be addressed by tangible legal and constitutional safeguards that can be put in place by virtue of which protection of Domicile Rights including that of reservation for the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir in the matter of employment and that of admissions to professional courses is ensured," it said.
They said that a blend of models like Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and parts of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh can provide solution for protection of these rights of the Peoples of Jammu and Kashmir.
They also demanded the release of political detainees and said that one of the psychological setbacks to a number of people in Kashmir is that their near and dear ones were detained.
"These people were not arrested for committing any violation of law, but were preventive detentions vis-à-vis law and order situation. Now that life has almost returned to normal. It is a genuine demand that these detainees should be immediately shifted from jails across the country to Jammu and Kashmir and subsequently released," it said.
The leaders further said that cases against youth (mostly teenagers), who were detained under different FIRs by the police in the summer of 2016 be withdrawn on compassionate grounds.
Some of these youth have got jobs in the police and army but are being denied a character certificates as there are pending cases against them.
"It is requested to withdraw cases against such youth on compassionate grounds and support them integrate into the society", it said.
The delegation said it was heartening to see that the Kashmir Valley remained peaceful and no fatalities were recorded due to enhanced security measures but the credit must also go to the people of Jammu and Kashmir who showed extreme maturity while registering peaceful protests.
"Fact of the matter is that a majority of people in Jammu and Kashmir feel hurt and there are vocal concerns wherein they feel their decades-long privileges were unceremoniously curtailed," it said.