Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the ongoing delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir has to happen quickly so that polls can be held to instal an elected government that gives strength to its development trajectory.
During a three-and-a-half-hour-long meeting with 14 political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir, according to sources, the prime minister conveyed to the participants his personal sorrow at every death in Kashmir, no matter whether it was an innocent civilian, a Kashmiri boy who had picked up the gun or a member of the security forces.
In a series of tweets after meet, Modi said the deliberations were an important step in the ongoing efforts towards a developed and progressive Jammu and Kashmir where all-round growth is furthered.
"Our priority is to strengthen grassroots democracy in J&K. Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and J&K gets an elected government that gives strength to J&K's development trajectory," he said.
Modi said it was the biggest strength of Indian democracy that people can sit across a table and exchange views.
"I told the leaders of J&K that it is the people, specially the youth who have to provide political leadership to J&K, and ensure their aspirations are duly fulfilled," he said.
The prime minister chaired the meeting at his official residence in New Delhi.
This is the first interaction between the central leadership and mainstream parties since August 5, 2019, when the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir's special status under Article 370 and bifurcated it into union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
The four former chief ministers of the erstwhile state who participated in the discussions were Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, Congress' Ghulam Nabi Azad and People's Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti.
Four former deputy chief ministers were in attendance too -- Congress' Tara Chand, People's Conference leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig and Bharatiya Janata Party's Nirmal Singh and Kavinder Gupta.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami, Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) chief Altaf Bukhari, Sajjad Lone of the People's Conference, J-K Congress head G A Mir, BJP's Ravinder Raina and Panthers Party leader Bhim Singh also formed part of the delegation.
Sources said that the prime minister noted that the security forces themselves could not change the situation and called upon all the leaders to personally involve themselves in stopping needless loss of lives.
In the backdrop of establishment of a three-tier Panchayati Raj System through election and the constitution of block and district development council, there were detailed deliberations on how to give a further fillip to the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir.
"The prime minister assured all parties that they would be an integral part of the delimitation process and their views would be taken on board. Accordingly, he urged them to participate in the process to ensure early completion," a source said.
The source also said, "The prime minister assured that assembly elections would be held expeditiously after the delimitation process was completed. He specially noted that a bureaucratic government was no substitute for one run by public representatives."
The issue of restoration of statehood was raised by several participants in the meeting.
"The prime minister and the home minister reiterated their previous public commitments to restoring Jammu and Kashmir to its status as a state. Their assurances were taken on board by the participants," the source said.