Srinagar: Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh led a delegation of 27 members of the Indian Parliament, including a few ministers, to hold talks in Jammu and Kashmir to find a solution to the current anti-India uprising that has paralysed normal life in Kashmir since July 8, when spontaneous protests erupted after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen’s iconic commander Burhan Wani. This is Singh’s third visit to Kashmir in 40 days.
The delegation arrived to a deserted Srinagar city on Sunday morning as a complete shutdown announced by the pro-freedom leadership received a remarkable response. An officer in the security wing of police, who accompanied the delegation from the airport to Lalit Grand Hotel, said that there was no civilian visible on the road. “The entire road stretch was manned by police and paramilitary personnel,” he said. Shouts of azadi slogans were coming from mosques as all the link roads to the Airport Road were blocked with razor wires. The pro-freedom leaders had asked people to block the Airport Road, apparently to hamper the passage of the all-party delegation.
The delegation arrived in a delayed chartered flight before reaching the five-star hotel. By noon, the delegation assembled at the winter hall of the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Complex (SKICC) on the banks of Dal Lake. Before their arrival, the pro-India political groups and individuals had arrived to meet the parliamentarians.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was the first to brief the delegation about the prevailing situation in Kashmir. Accompanied by deputy chief minister Dr Nirmal Singh, and ministers Haseeb Drabu, Rahman Veeri and Sajjad Lone, Mehbooba told the delegation that Kashmir was a common issue of national interest and should not be viewed as a political issue. An official spokesman said that Mehbooba appreciated the emphasis from all the delegation members that steps need to be taken to restore normalcy and peace in Kashmir at the earliest. Mehbooba thanked all the parties for visiting the state to listen to the problems of people of Jammu and Kashmir besides holding discussions on the issue of J&K in Parliament. She emphasised that media needs to be sensitive while reporting on issues like the current happenings in Kashmir.
“The need of the hour is to revive the reconciliation and resolution process through an institutionalised mechanism involving all the stakeholders,” she said and added that the challenge before the leadership of the state and the country is to insulate the process from the setbacks that have derailed it in the past.
“All of us are deeply concerned about the painful situation existing in Kashmir and a credible and meaningful political dialogue and resolution process has to be initiated to end the stalemate,” Mehbooba said.
She said that all the mainstream political parties and separatist leadership in the state voice the urges and aspirations of the people and seek a lasting resolution of the problems confronting Jammu and Kashmir.
“In the ‘Agenda of Alliance’, which is the basis of our government formation with our alliance partners, BJP, it has been made clear that the state government will create conditions to facilitate resolution of all issues and will help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all the stakeholders, including all political groups in J&K irrespective of their ideological views and predilections to build a broad based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K,” she said.
Finance Minister Drabu gave a detailed presentation regarding the political, economic and developmental challenges confronting J&K and a possible roadmap on how to pull the state out of the morass.
National Conference delegation was led by former chief minister Omar Abdullah and comprised senior leaders including Ali Muhammad Sagar and Abdur Rahim Rather. Speaking to media persons Abdullah regretted that delegations arrive in Kashmir when the situation is out of hands. “There have been initiatives like this in the past and recommendations were made through APDs and interlocutors but these recommendations were not pursued,” he said. He said that from Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s ‘sky is the limit’ offer to Ram Madhaav’s we-can-offer –moon-within-the-constitution, there have been many promises made and broken. He said Kashmir is a political issue and it needs resolution through involvement of all stakeholders including Hurriyat Conference and Pakistan.
Pointing towards change of status quo, Abdullah said his father Dr Farooq Abdullah had suggested to the Government of India to grant internal autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir as a permanent solution. “My father told them that a time will come when you will be ready to grant autonomy but there will be no takers for it,” he said. Abdullah said Mehbooba Mufti was confused and full of contradictions. He ridiculed the CM’s comment that only 5 percent of population was protesting on streets in Kashmir. He said that his party presented a memorandum to the APD. The memorandum demanded fixing accountability for excessive use of force in the current unrest, followed by credible and visible action; an immediate ban on pellet-guns and all other lethal or purportedly “non-lethal” weapons that have maimed and blinded hundreds of youth; revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from areas that have seen a relative return to normalcy in the recent years; withdrawal of cases against the youth and an immediate end to the policy of wanton arrests, nocturnal raids and harassment; the return of power projects from NHPC to the State to help the State achieve economic self-reliance and a sense of empowerment; reducing the military and paramilitary footprint from civilian areas of the State; Implementation of various recommendations made by the Prime Minister’s Working Groups on Kashmir, and constitution of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
PDP general secretary Sartaj Madni put a brave face to speak to media after leading his party delegation. He denied reports that he had to escape through the paddy fields when Mehbooba Mufti was confronted by angry people in Kund area of Qazigund on Saturday. “You must report the facts and play a responsible role. The reality on the ground is different,” he claimed.
The Indian National Congress delegation was led by JKPCC President Ghulam Ahmad Mir, who told reporters that Congress demanded dialogue process with Hurriyat Conference leaders and immediate halt on the use of pellet guns. The Peoples Democratic Party led by Sartaj Madni, Peoples Conference led by Sajad Gani Lone, Communist Party of India (M) led by MY Tarigami, Awami Itihaad Party led by Sheikh Abdul Rashid, Peoples Democratic Front led by Hakim Yaseen, Democratic Party Nationalist led by Ghulam Hassan Mir and BJP led by state President Sat Sharma also met the APD.
Sources said around 200 persons comprising about 30 delegations belonging to political parties, delegations of academicians, teachers and student associations, representatives of school management, prominent NGOs, representatives of Leh, Kargil, Pahari associations, Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, Fruit & Saffron Growers associations, and civil society members met the APD.
The delegation held a dinner meeting with Governor NN Vohra later in the evening.