On Monday, finance minister Arun Jaitley said in Parliament that Centre was ready "to go the extra mile" for equitable development of three regions - Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh - of Jammu and Kashmir. The statement was promptly welcomed by Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which saw it as a "positive development which will have a positive impact on the process of government formation".
Jaitley, however, said nothing that could be seen as a concession to PDP's conditions for the government formation. Some of PDP's demands include:
1. The return of power projects
2. Smart city status for Jammu and Srinagar
3. Progress on AFSPA revocation
4. Talks with the separatist groups
5. Flood relief and rehabilitation
6. A degree of freedom from adapting its politics to the BJP's nationalist straightjacket
Most of these demands have already been agreed to in the Agenda of Alliance.
What Jaitley has offered is a generic assurance. That too over a subject which is not in dispute. The finance minister has promised to implement the already announced Rs 80,000 crore package which comprises the development projects - some of which predate the package and are already in works. Second, the package has little immediate relevance as it is being implemented over the next five years.
Jaitley specifically talked about the IITS, IIMS and AIIMS for the state. But these too have already been announced for the state and work on them - albeit still at an early stage - is in progress.
But the finance minister's statement is still held to as a significant development by the PDP. "We welcome the statement as it is good to talk about the development of the state and fulfilling of the commitments," PDP spokesman and the senior leader Naeem Akther said.
Top PDP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beigh welcomed the statement, "This is an indication by the central government that they are serious about implementation of the Agenda of Alliance. It is a sort of assurance".
Similar sentiment is expressed by other leaders who don't want to speak on record. "Things are heading in the right direction," said a senior PDP leader. "BJP has shown understanding of the special needs of the state. Centre is taking concrete steps to address our demands".
One reason for this optimism is some steps initiated by Governor N N Vohra's government in recent weeks. For example, the government has disbursed an amount of Rs 43.57 crore to the flood-hit Kashmiri traders, out of which Rs 22.98 crores was distributed among the traders in the worst affected Srinagar. On Wednesday, Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir Asghar Samoon said that the government has released Rs 210 crore to the flood-hit families.
In a unprecedented statement on "land issues in J&K", the Army had this to say, "it is committed to meeting all the mutually agreed decisions arising not only out of Civil Military Liaison Conference, 2015 but of all previous such meetings".
The statement went further: "The Army has also committed to providing land for expansion of Jammu University and land under its possession at Islamabad for establishment of South Campus of Kashmir University. The Army has also agreed to vacate the Lower Plateau at Kargil at the request of the Administration".
PDP leaders privately claim that these measures have been initiated at their urging and as a part of their ongoing negotiations with BJP. Besides, the leaders also claim that the centre has agreed to seriously consider the return of one of the power projects owned by NHPC in the state in addition to granting of two smart cities to the state - one of Srinagar and another for Jammu.
BJP though, hasn't said anything on record about it, a reluctance that the PDP leaders put down to the party's political compulsions at the national level.
"BJP doesn't want to tom-tom about this. Our effort is to pursue the agenda of alliance in an inconspicuous way," said a PDP leader. "Remember, outside the Kashmir BJP is blamed for allying with us".
Over the past two weeks, PDP president has held many consultations with the top BJP leadership in New Delhi. The apparent progress in the negotiations has reflected in Mehbooba's public statements.
"Mufti Saheb ka faisla pathar ki lakeer hay (Mufti's decision is cast in stone)," she said last week while addressing PDP workers in North Kashmir town of Kupwara. "Unka faisla mera faisla (His decision is mine too)"
Senior PDP leaders Haseeb Drabu and Amitabh Mattu have also held meetings with senior BJP leadership that include Ram Madhav and Arun Jaitley. The duo has also visited various central ministries to pursue the timely implementation of the mutually agreed Agenda of Alliance.
One major development that signalled an unmistakable progress towards the government formation was Governor Vohra's decision to put off Tuesday's meeting on the budget for 2016-17. No reasons for the postponement were given. State Administrative Council headed by Governor had otherwise decided to go for the full-budget instead of opting for the Vote-on-Account.
Another meeting - scheduled with political parties two days later to discuss election to Urban Local Bodies was also deferred. Invitation letters for the meeting had been sent to Dr Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, State BJP president Sat Sharma, State Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir and Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Gani Lone. But at the last minute they were informed that the meeting had been cancelled.
Edited by Sahil Bhalla
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