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After Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to allay fears of a demographic change in Jammu and Kashmir, Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Sunday reiterated the assurance to visiting political leaders of Apni Party, a new political outfit whose leaders have over the past mostly favoured New Delhi.

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Assurances of “restoration of statehood” at the early opportunity”, “no demographic change” and “release of all political prisoners” in due course were some of the key takeaways from Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s meeting with the J&K Apni Party members.

Expressing confidence that ‘visible changes will be seen on the ground in the next few months, the home minister also assured the delegation that the NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take all steps for the overall development of Jammu and Kashmir’.

The nullification of the constitutional provisions in August to strip Jammu & Kashmir of its special status, which prevented non-residents from buying land and taking up jobs in the region, triggered concerns about demographic changes in the erstwhile state.

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Engaging with the delegation on about 42-odd issues raised by them, the home minister emphasised that there is no intention of the government for demographic change in the region and refuted all such talks as baseless.

The meeting between the leaders of Apni Party, led by its president Altaf Bukhari, and Home Minister Shah supposedly lasted for over two hours.  “He said he has noted the 42 points that we had raised.

Shah said among these points, he will respond to few points right now and the rest within the next 10 days,” a senior party leader said. “He said the first thing he wants to tell us to bury this issue of demographic change because no one has any such intention.

No one in the country can afford to engineer demographic change in Kashmir, nor is such a thing in the interest of the country. The Union Home Secretary, IB chief, Additional Secretary Home, Additional Director IB and Joint Secretary Home accompanied Shah.

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In a similar assurance as given by the PM to the delegation, Shah said the government will work with all sections of the society to realize the hopes of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir at an early opportunity.

“He said the statehood will be restored as soon as is possible. This too is because of our national interest. It is not in the interest of India to have a weak J&K. It’s a border state, it needs to be very strong and it needs to have a strong government,” said a member of the visiting group.

Shah referred to the PM’s address to the nation after the abrogation of Article 370 and said that and even he, himself in his speech in Lok Sabha on August 6, 2019, expressed the same.

The Centre has been working on a domicile policy to protect land rights in J&K and among the options under consideration is a mandatory requirement of 15-year residency in the region as the eligibility for government jobs and owning land there.

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Sale of agricultural land to outsiders is not allowed in some states and Union Territories under their domicile policies. Several states including Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim enjoy protection under Article 371 of the Constitution.

The domicile requirements are seen as a way to allay the fears of assuring the local populace that its rights will be protected.  Bukhari confirmed a domicile law to protect jobs and land rights was coming soon.

“There is no question of anyone snatching away our lands or jobs,” he said. “We are going back satisfied,” Bukhari added. He further said that they have assurances from both PM Narendra Modi, whom they met on Saturday, and Shah.

Shah also said that a reasonable economic development policy will be drafted soon after widespread consultation. He expressed hope that in the next four years, Jammu and Kashmir will have three times more investments than  ₹13,000 crore that it has received in the last 70 years. “There is a huge potential and investors are also willing to come forward. This will also solve the problem of unemployment in the region,” he added.

Shah said his government is open to suggestions and feedback from all political parties and individuals for overall development of Jammu and Kashmir. Allaying the apprehensions of the delegation on restrictions, Shah said all decisions on relaxations are based on ground realities and not due to any pressure.

He referred to steps like release of people from detention, restoration of internet, relaxation in curfew and said that even political prisoners will be freed in times to come as the main objective of the government is to prevent even a single person from dying, be it a common Kashmiri or security personnel.

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Many political leaders were detained after August 5 last year when the Centre revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and divided it into union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Responding to the demand for releasing of political detainees, Shah told the leaders that they will try to shift the detainees from outside the state to Jammu and Kashmir and promised telephone facility to them so that they can talk to their families.

After the meeting, Bukhari told reporters in Delhi: “Yes, we did discuss the detention of remaining political leaders and others, and the Home Minister said it is a process and we will be releasing them very soon.”

He emphasised that there is no discrimination in the implementation of central laws in Jammu and Kashmir and interests of all sections will be taken care of. On the issues of reservation, the home minister said that a commission will be set up soon and reiterated that no injustice will be done to Gujjars, nomads and other communities. On the issues concerning JK Bank, he assured the delegation of personally looking into the issues.

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Shah said that he will also ask the Lieutenant Governor to appoint a senior nodal officer to meet the people twice in a week to address their grievances. He also asked the delegation to provide feedback to the nodal officers in the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The JK Apni Party chief also raised several various other issues, including relaxation of age limit for youths from union territory appearing in Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams, relief in horticulture and agriculture as well as the tourism sector.

Shah, however, asked the J&K leaders to forget Article 370. “(Article) 370 is gone, that’s now an old story. There is a discussion going on outside and the issue is also in the Supreme Court, let’s move ahead of it,” a leader quoted Shah as saying.

“I promise you from here that anything that has been given to other states, more will be given to J&K. How will it be done is being looked into. Whatever we have given to other states, you will get more. This is my commitment to you.”

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