Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a number of leaders from the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir held a meeting on Thursday, but failed to build a consensus on any major issue involving the disputed territory, media reports said.
No formal statement was issued after the crucial meeting.
The media quoted Kamishiri Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad as saying that Kashmiri leaders put five demands to Modi during the meeting: (1) restore the Indian-occupied Kashmir as a state, (2) hold state-assembly elections, (3) rehabilitate Kashmiri pundits in the disputed region, (4) domiciles rules, and (5) release all political workers who were detained after the Modi government's decision to revoke the special status of Kashmir on August 5, 2019.
Azad said that 80 percent of the Kashmiri leaders spoke on Article 370, but the matter was sub-judice in the court. "Our demands included restoration of Kashmir as a full-fledged state, elections to restore democracy, rehabilitation of Kashmiri pundits, release of political detainees and provision of land employment guarantee," the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said.
Modi chaired the meeting in New Delhi attended by the Himalayan region's 14 political leaders, including Modi's own party members. India's powerful home minister, Amit Shah, and New Delhi's administrator in the region, Manoj Sinha, also attended the meeting.
Among those invited were occupied Kashmir's former three top elected officials: Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti, who was a regional coalition partner of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party for nearly two years after the 2016 state elections.
Experts say the meeting was meant to ward off mounting criticism at home and abroad after Modi's Hindu nationalist government in August 2019 downgraded the region's status, split it into two federal territories--Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir--and removed inherited protections on land and jobs for the local population.
Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a public-policy think tank in India, said geopolitical reasons forced "Modi's hand for an outreach towards Kashmiri political leaders." In a tweet, he said Tuesday that the UAE-brokered backchannel talks led to "certain commitments from the Modi government on Kashmir."
International pressure, particularly from U.S. President Joe Biden's administration, has also been piling on the Indian government to reverse some of its recent changes.
Dean Thompson, acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, told a congressional hearing early this month that although New Delhi had taken some steps such as the release of prisoners and the restoration of 4G internet access in the region, "there are other electoral steps we'd like to see them take and that we have encouraged them to do and will continue to do so."
According to The Wire, confronted by the spectre of a two-front collusive military threat from China and Pakistan, the Modi government opened backchannel talks with Pakistan in 2020, which resulted in a ceasefire on the Line of Control in March. It was soon evident that the USE-brokered talks included some concessions from the Modi government on Kashmir, which were demanded by Pakistan to create an 'enabling environment'.
According to Al Jazeera, these included: one, a permanent halt to demographic change in Kashmir; two, the release of political and other prisoners; three, the removal of blockades on communication and movement in Kashmir; four, the grant of full statehood rights to Jammu and Kashmir; and five, a reduction in Indian security forces' deployment in Kashmir.
Tellingly, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday slammed the Centre over Prime Minister Modi's meeting with J-K political leaders, saying the country's name was tarnished globally when J-K statehood was revoked. "I don't know what was the need for removing the statehood in the first place. Country's name was tarnished globally due to that move," Mamata Banerjee said.