Traders’ body boycotts meet, home minister meets babus, motorboat owners in guarded seclusion of Nehru Guest House
Srinagar: On the 15th day of the anti-India uprising in Kashmir, India’s home minister Rajnath Singh arrived in the state capital on a two-day visit. At 11am on Saturday when Singh landed at Srinagar ‘International’ Airport, the city wore a deserted look and pitched street battles were going on in Batamaloo area of Srinagar and the entire south Kashmir was under harsh curbs.
Around noon, Singh began meeting delegations at the high-security Nehru Guest House situated in the lap of Zabarwan hills. Some delegations arrived in ambulances and were not willing to speak to media, which was kept away from the guest house. To the government’s chagrin, prominent trade bodies of Kashmir, including the Kashmir Chamber of Industry and Commerce, announced a boycott of the meeting with the home minister that they were scheduled to attend. Instead of them, hitherto unknown groups like motorboat operators and unidentified youth groups and individuals met the visiting dignitary. A trade body representative was flown in from Jammu for the meeting.
Rajnath Singh held a detailed discussion with Governor NN Vohra at the Raj Bhawan. The situation in Kashmir Valley was the main focus of the discussions, officials said.
“On the first day of his visit to Srinagar, Rajnath Singh met about fifteen different delegations during the day. Some of the delegations are from Sikh community, Kashmiri Pandits, Imams, fruit growers, Chamber of Commerce, Youth, Horticulture and Tourism & Hospitality industry and entrepreneurs. In addition to various delegations, the Home Minister also met several individuals,” a home ministry statement said in the evening.
Sources said the delegations included some former bureaucrats, representatives of civil secretariat employees, horticulturists from south Kashmir, and motorboat operators.
The home minister is scheduled to meet delegations of political parties and top officials of central and state security agencies on Sunday before flying back to New Delhi.
Sources said Singh urged the members of various delegations to help the state and central governments in restoring peace and order in Kashmir. He said that the central government was assisting the state government and would continue to do so in future.
Sources said that Singh listened to the delegations patiently and assured them that their demands and suggestions would be looked into after normalcy returns to the Valley. Official sources said that the home minister asked the delegations for free and fair feedback and suggestions to bring back normalcy in the Kashmir region.
This is Rajnath Singh’s second visit to Kashmir this month. On July 1 he had arrived to take part in a special puja held at the beginning of the annual Amarnath yatra. Observers say this second visit is aimed at assuaging the international pressure on the killing spree of government forces in Kashmir.
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), an amalgam of over a dozen trade unions, decided to not meet Singh. “It would serve no purpose,” the KCCI said, “when the killing of innocent people continues unabated and scores of people are being injured by bullets and pellets.”
KCCI demands resolution of ‘basic issue’
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Saturday said that the amicable settlement of the basic issue (of Kashmir) as per the aspirations of the people was the need of the hour. “There can be no peace without that. Peace is the basis for any economic development,” the KCCI, one of the oldest trade bodies in south Asia, wrote to the Indian home minister in a letter. The trade body refused to meet the visiting minister at the Nehru Guest House on Saturday.
“The security forces are not under the control of anybody and are a law unto themselves. It is important that the use of lethal weapons by the army, CRPF and the local police is stopped forthwith, including pellet shotguns which are not used anywhere in the world except in the case of wild animals, which too has been banned by WWF,” the KCCI said. The trade body’s letter to Rajnath Singh said that mere shifting of police officers will not do as they were liable for criminal action as per the Supreme Court guidelines.
The trade body demanded accountability of all the civil officers or magistrates who issued the orders to use bullets. Rejecting an official inquiry, the traders demanded a commission of inquiry by a panel of sitting high court judges and human rights defenders. “We demand the stoppage of the use of pellet shotguns,” the KCCI wrote.
The traders also demanded permission to protest, release of all Kashmiri youth from prisons within J&K and outside, demilitarisation in all towns in J&K as well as in the city of Srinagar, and justice to those killed, injured, orphaned, and widowed since 1947.