‘Everyone, including separatists, welcome for talks’
Srinagar: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday said that the Government of India will not go against the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir on the issue of Article 35A. He also said that anybody, including pro-freedom leaders, was welcome to join the dialogue process with Government of India.
“Every stakeholder whether political or non-political, student or businessmen, is welcome to talk to us. I have always said this. I have always come here with an open mind, but people must come forward to talk. I am not keeping any reservations in mind against anybody,” Singh said while addressing a press conference here.
He said that every effort will be made to bring peace and prosperity in Kashmir, and “if there is a need to come to Kashmir 50 times in a year, I will come.”
In reply to a query that whether a formal invitation has been extended to the separatists for dialogue, the home minister said he had invited everyone, irrespective of their affiliations.
“What is formal or informal? Everyone is invited irrespective of their associations. I have come here to give a practical shape to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s exhortation in his August 15 speech that the Kashmir problem would be resolved by embracing the people of Kashmir, and not by bullet or abuses,” Rajnath said.
He said the government didn’t want to leave out any stakeholder with whom dialogue should be held.
“An all-party delegation came here and met everybody, we did not oppose that. I have already made it clear that all stakeholders are welcome,” he asserted.
Asked about the arrests of pro-freedom leaders, he said the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is acting according to the law.
However, he said, “NIA action should not deter those who want to talk with us.”
Singh, who is on a four-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, said the situation is improving in Kashmir.
“I don’t want to say it is better, but it is improving and is better than earlier,” he said.
Singh said he had directed the security forces and the administration that “children who have been misguided and pushed into violence should not be treated as criminals and put into jails”.
“Children below the age of 18 will be treated in accordance with the Juvenile Justice Act and not like criminals,” he said.
“Some misguided children will be dealt with according to the juvenile justice system and not locked up in jails. They should be properly counselled and treated with compassion,” he said.
Amid growing debate over Articles 35A and 370, Singh said the BJP-led government in New Delhi won’t go against the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir on Constitutional provisions that guarantee special status to the conflict region.
“I feel there is no reason for doubt and confusion on this issue. The centre has not gone to court in this regard and I want to assure that whatever our government will do, it will not go against the wishes and aspirations of the people,” he said.
Singh said it was unfortunate that a non-issue had been made into a big issue.
When asked about the RSS and even state BJP leaders and ministers seeking abrogation of Articles 35A and 370, Singh said: “BJP is a political organisation and I speak as a BJP leader and the Home Minister of the country. Whatever I said on this issue should be taken as final.”
The Supreme Court last month asked the GoI to file a reply within three weeks to a writ petition filed by an NGO seeking abrogation of Article 35A.
Singh said that a permanent solution to Kashmir issue will have to be based on five C’s—compassion, communication, coexistence, confidence building, and consistency.
“After meeting delegations and holding meetings here, I understand that the situation in Kashmir has greatly improved. I don’t want to claim that everything is completely fine but things are improving; this I can say with firm belief,” Singh said.
He said during his visit he has interacted with police and CRPF personnel and he will also meet army personnel.
He also appealed to tourists to come to Kashmir and to businesses to invest in the region.
“The worst affected groups in Kashmir are the youth, businessmen, workers and the poor. Terrorism has adversely affected the tourism sector. To boost tourism, our government will run a special tourism drive for Kashmir to promote tourism in the state,” he said.
Referring to the daughter of a slain policeman, Abdul Rashid, the home minister said he couldn’t forget Zohra’s face and added that he wants “to see a smile on every Kashmiri’s face.”
Photographs of the young Zohra sobbing at her father’s funeral went viral on social media and triggered outrage across the country.
“Violence has destroyed many generations of Kashmiris. We will not allow another generation to go waste in Kashmir,” said Rajnath.
He also blamed Pakistan for escalation in violence in Kashmir. “Narendra Modi had initiated fresh friendly ties with Pakistan when he visited Nawaz Sharif at his home. However, the neighbouring country responded with violence and promoted infiltration,” Singh said.
The home minister said he was feeling positive about the situation in Kashmir improving. “I can see the green shoots of peace in Kashmir valley,” he said.