Prime Minister NarendraModi on Saturday said his government will work with all sections of the population for restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir “at an early opportunity”.

A 24-member delegation of the newly formed Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP), led by its leader AltafBukhari, called on the Prime Minister at his residence Saturday evening and discussed with him various issues like concerns about demographic changes, the delimitation exercise and grant of state domicile, officials said.

“Referring to his statement in Parliament, the Prime Minister underlined that the government will work with all sections of the population to realize the hopes of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir at an early opportunity,” an official statement said.

During an interactive session with the delegation, the Prime Minister called for ‘Janbhagidari’ (people’s participation) in transforming the union territory and emphasised on the importance of an administration that gives voice to the people.

Modi also noted that democracy in the region could be strengthened through a fast-moving process of political integration, the statement said.

The PM also spoke about youth empowerment and emphasised that youngsters should act as catalytic agents for the development of Jammu and Kashmir. He highlighted the importance of skill development and creating new employment opportunities for the youth to bring in an overall transformation in the UT, it said.

Extending full support from the government to resolve all issues being faced by the people of the Jammu and Kashmir, the Prime Minister also assured the delegation that the Centre is committed to the region’s economic development through extensive focus on infrastructure development and creating new investment opportunities in sectors like tourism.

During the meeting, President of the newly formed ‘Apni Party’ AltafBukhari said that August 5 last year, when the erstwhile state’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution was revoked, was a “watershed moment” in history.

The delegation thanked the Prime Minister for his “unstinted support” and “untiring efforts” towards the development of the UT and also appreciated the efforts of the government, security agencies and the people of Jammu and Kashmir towards maintaining peace and security in the region, the statement said.

JKAP was formed on March 8 by Bukhari, the erstwhile state’s former finance minister, along with 30 political leaders from various regional and national parties, with an aim to pitch for restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and ensure domicile rights over the land and jobs there.

A week after its formation, the Bukhari-led delegation met the Prime Minister and had a marathon meeting with him — the first such meeting post abrogation of provisions of Article 370 and bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories in August last year.

After the meeting, Bukhari said the Prime Minister heard them patiently and assured that all central laws will be made applicable in the Union Territory.

JKAP had welcomed the release of National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah on Friday.

The issue of political prisoners was also raised during the meeting and a request was made to the Prime Minister to release all the detained leaders from preventive detention, he said.

PEOPLE IN JK HAVE APPREHENSIONS

The J&K Apni Party (JKAP), which is projecting itself as a third front against the two main political parties of Kashmir, in its first meeting with Prime Minister NarendraModi in the national capital on Saturday told him that people in J&K have several apprehensions regarding their land, jobs and businesses following the nullification of Article 370.

Ghulam Hassan Mir, one of the main architects of the Apni Party, in an interview to IANS just before the delegation went to meet the Prime Minister, said the visit was necessary to put forward the point of view of Kashmiri people before the Centre.

“There is a new dimension to politics in J&K since the loss of statehood and nullification of Article 370. We are a regional party with a national outlook. We want to work for the welfare of our people in the region and with a national consensus. We have no confusion about it. We will work with the Centre regardless of who is in power. We are not going to mislead people and promise them anything that’s unrealistic as NC (National Conference) and PDP did,” he said.

A public school teacher-turned-politician Mir said that the delegation was visiting New Delhi to request Prime Minister Modi to reach out to people in the state.

“Today there is a convergence of issues in Kashmir and Jammu, after the abrogation of Article 370. People in both the regions are worried that if J&K youth have to compete with the youth of the rest of the country in education, jobs and business, they will end up being losers. Similarly, there is anxiety about land, environment now that anyone can buy and settle in J&K. But above all, there is a sense of disenfranchisement by the reduction of J&K state to a Union Territory. We demand restoration of statehood and we will keep raising all these issues as a party,” he said.

Though politicians in J&K have accused JKAP of being an ally of the BJP in the state, Mir dismissed it. “We spoke to the people in Kashmir and asked them what they wanted. Common people are facing problems and want their redressal. We formed a political party to mitigate their miseries and we will follow the democratic process by going back to them. People and time will prove that we are independent. We will oppose the BJP wherever and whenever it is required.”

The Apni Party comprises several former NC and PDP legislators and members, Mir said, and had only leadership to offer to people in J&K. “We are talking about people and we will talk about everyone. We don’t have anything else to offer,” he said rubbishing the accusation that the Apni Party had poached members from the two main political parties of Kashmir.

“Detention of political leaders is not acceptable in a democracy. We all were detained and ever since we got released, we have been asking for the release of others as well,” Mir said before he met the PM today. (With inputs from IANS)

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