At the outset, the Union government and all the Jammu & Kashmir political parties need to be commended for a successful meeting that was free of any animosity and rancour. Neither the government nor the J&K political leaders put forth any condition for participation in Thursday’s meeting and the talks were free of blame games or name-calling for what happened on 5 August 2019. Although there was no concrete decision or announcement at the end of the meeting, there was unanimity on the need for holding of elections in the Union territory, or in the words of the government, the revival of the democratic process that has been stalled for the past three years. The Centre has realised that any election process will not enjoy legitimacy without the involvement of mainstream political parties such as the PDP and NC. The District Development Council elections held last year underlined the failure of the Centre’s attempt to delegitimise these parties in order to create a political ecosystem bereft of the PDP and the NC. The two parties raised the issue of the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A, but they will only fall on deaf ears unless the Supreme Court overturns the decision that enjoys Parliamentary approval. The special status the erstwhile state enjoyed is a dead horse and its restoration will only be a mere slogan for political parties, nothing more.
But an election must not be an end in itself, it should be the start of a sustained effort to address the core issue, which is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi described as an attempt to remove “dil ki doori”. The sense of alienation is deep and pervasive. So far the government has focused mainly on providing jobs, a corruption-free administration and economic development. But they are not enough. While unemployment and poverty provide a breeding ground for militancy, what feeds the urge to wield the gun is alienation, suspicion and distrust. Attempts or perceived moves to change the demographic character of J&K through a change in domicile laws only add to the sense of alienation. This has to stop or else the good start Thursday’s meeting has yielded will come to naught.