While home minister Rajnath Singh’s 2nd visit to Kashmir in a month did little to achieve breakthrough on the ground, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s angry outburst against people of south Kashmir could end up fueling the anger.

rage

|| ZAHOOR GULZAR

            Moments before union home minister Rajnath Singh flew to Kashmir on the morning of August 24 he extended an open invite for talks to all those who believe in “Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat and Jamhooriyat”. “Shall interact with civil society groups, political parties and other stakeholders… I will be staying at the Nehru Guest House. Those who believe in Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat and Jamhooriyat are welcome.” He also put up a video message on Facebook, appealing for peace and cooperation. The home minister’s visit, second in a month, was seen as an efforts by New Delhi to try an defuse the ongoing uprising in the Valley which has seen more than 65 killings in less than two months, post Burhan encounter on July 8.

        The visit was also important in the backdrop of the statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had broken silence on Kashmir uprising after more than a month, underscoring the need for a “permanent solution to Kashmir within the ambit of constitutional framework”. Support for talks on Kashmir, banning pellets On his arrival in the Valley which is seething with anger amid continued curfew for past more than 50 days, the home minister was meted with demands from the opposition that New Delhi should “holds talks with all stakeholders for resolving Kashmir”. “We told him about the broader issues of dialogue and issues that have to be addressed politically,’’ National Conference general secretary Ali Mohammad Sager, who was part of party delegation led by former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, toldKashmir Leader. The opposition also raised the issue of mass arrests and night raids being conducted by the forces. “It is exactly this message that the united opposition parties took to Delhi when we met the President, Prime Minister and other leaders,” Omar told PTI.

        “The situation is getting worse and this is what we told the home minister… This confrontationist attitude, use of force to control the situation is not the solution, and this is what we told the Prime Minister and the home minister.” The day that saw a 22-year old youth felling to pellets fired by forces in Pulwama ended with the home minister meeting only on mainstream parties to seek cooperation for restoring normalcy in Kashmir. There was no word from authorities in New Delhi or Singh back in Kashmir about any plans with Government of India to reach out to separatists, in a bid to defuse the ongoing unrest. “Though the script rolled out on expected lines, for a moment there was thinking in some quarters that New Delhi might do ‘something differently’ this time to defuse the crisis,” said a known political analysts here. “It never happened and we were proven right by Delhi again.”

       The Scrip went wrong, horribly! On the evening of August 24, the information department, official mouth piece of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti led Government, alerted media that the CM was going to address a press conference at her Gupkar residence here next day at 12 pm. The announcement said the rumor milling rolling given the only thing the Chief Minister had been doing in the past more than one month was avoiding media. “Will she step down,” a journalist in the press colony asked.

      Another journalist quipped: “Are we heading towards the Governor’s rule.” By the time the media had assembled at Mehbooba’s Gupkar residence it had become clear that she will be jointly addressing press conference with the home minister who had a meeting with the chief minister over the Kashmir situation. But no one was anticipating that the home minister’s visit would do little to push the cause of peace the Valley and then the chief minister, who was in aggressive mood right from the outset, confronting journalist, would invite more trouble for her over her remarks.

There was no word from authorities in New Delhi or home minister Rajnath Singh in Kashmir about any plans with Government of India to reach out to separatists, in a bid to defuse the uprising.

       Faced with tough questions over killings and alleged excessive use of force on protestors, the Chief Minister lashed out at the people of south Kashmir – PDP’s bastion — saying it was she who saved them from the security forces fighting militancy in the Valley. Mehbooba was agitated when a journalist asked her about the alleged disproportionate use of force against civilian protesters and if she had swapped her role and views with her predecessor Omar Abdullah, who was ruling the state during the 2010 unrest when nearly 120 civilians were killed. “Don’t mix or compare the two situations. You are making a bad analysis of what you are saying. In 2010, there was a fake encounter. Three civilians were killed. That means there was a reason for people to be angry.

       “Today, there was an encounter in which three militants were killed. How is the government to be blamed for that,” she shot back, raising her voice. She said people came out on the roads after the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani even though the government had imposed a strict curfew. “Had a kid gone to buy a toffee from an army camp? A 15-year-old boy who attacked a police station in Damhal Hanjipora (south Kashmir) had not gone to fetch milk. Don’t compare the two,” she thundered. She hit at protesters in south Kashmir — the worst-affected region in the current unrest where most of the nearly 70 deaths have occurred.

       In her angry outburst, the PDP chief said it was she who saved the people of the south from “the edge of a knife, when they used to run away after seeing gypsies (vans) of the Task Force” — a reference to the Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police set up to battle militancy. “What will they tell me? I saved them when they were being taken to begaar (forced labour), when they were being taken to cut the grass in south Kashmir. I have got them out… from those terrible situations when (security forces) used to check their identities.”

      As Mehbooba’s anger was brewing, the Home Minister, smiling but apparently uneasy, gestured to her with his left hand, seemingly asking her to calm down. But she stood up, and ended the press conference abruptly. A reluctant home minister was left with no choice but to follow her not before he had announced some administrative measures like finding an alternative to pellets guns “soon”. He reiterated his call that New Delhi was ready to talk to “everybody” within the ambit of “Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat and Kashmiriyat,” and appealed for peace in Kashmir, saying India’s future is incomplete without future of Kashmir.

The criticism that was inevitable

          Both separatists and civil society were disappointed with what the home minister and the Chief Minister had to say in the press conference. Hurriyat and Jamaat-i-Islami while labeling the visit “as expected”, slammed New Delhi’s lack of seriousness in tackling the unrest in the Valley, adding that the future of India and South Asia would be in jeopardy if Jammu and Kashmir continued to be ignored. Commenting on Singh’s press briefing, the Hurriyat Conference (G) led by Syed Ali Geelani said “it is the same denial by the Indian State which doesn’t accept the fact that people here don’t want to live under forcible occupation of India and want to decide their future through right to self-determination— a basic right endorsed by the United Nations and agreed upon by India through many resolutions.”

As Mehbooba’s anger was brewing, the Home Minister, smiling but apparently uneasy, gestured to her with his left hand, seemingly asking her to calm down. But she stood up, and ended the press conference abruptly.

        “Even this time, when the Valley is burning, it is evident that rather than coming out of denial mode about the struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and showing some seriousness in resolving the dispute, the government of India wants to debate pellet shot guns and its alternatives,” said a Hurriyat statement issued soon after the home minister’s press conference. Reacting to Rajnath’s statements, Hurriyat Conference (M) led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said: “Kashmir is not a law and order or administrative issue; it’s about aspirations and wishes of its people. India has to read the writing on the wall and listen to what Kashmiris are saying. He (Rajnath Singh) is just doing a PR exercise. India has to recognize Kashmir as a political dispute and resolve it, either through international agreements (UN resolutions) or through dialogue with Pakistan and people of Jammu and Kashmir.” Similarly, the religio-political outfit Jamaat-i-Islami termed the visit futile.

         “The genuine demand of Kashmiri people is to settle the Kashmir issue as per the real aspirations of people of entire Jammu and Kashmir as it existed before the Indo-Pak Partition. He (Rajnath) also failed to give his comments on state-sponsored atrocities being committed upon the hapless innocent people for the past more than one and a half month during which 70 innocent persons were killed and thousands injured by Indian security forces,” the Jamaat said in a statement. Dukharan-i-Millat leader Asiyah Andrabi similarly said that the home minister’s visit was “a tactic to hoodwink the international community”. “These visits are only deceptive tactics to show the international community that government of India is concerned about the situation and human rights in Jammu and Kashmir,” Andrabi said in a statement. And hit out at the Chief Minister. “The press conference made it clear that the puppet CM, Mehbooba Mufti, has taken people of Kashmir for granted. Her statements at the press conference expose the fact that she has bought the chair by selling off lives, properties, prestige and land of Kashmiri people to her BJP masters.”

The Mainstream reacted too

          The main opposition party National Conference (NC) accused Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on “making provocative statements” saying this will make situation worse. “The provocative statements like 5 percent people are creating trouble will make things worse in Kashmir,” former minister and senior NC leader, Ali Muhammad Sagar said, in a statement. “The government is still not making things clear as to whom it will talk, while on the other hand, crackdowns and arrests are still going on.”

        The Congress however appreciated New Delhi’s move to send an all-party delegation to the state and look for option to pellet gun soon. “We have, time and again, urged the Centre in both Lok Sabha and in Rajya Sabha to send an all-party delegation to Kashmir which will hold a discussion with all shades of opinion,” State Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir said. But the home ministers’ visit and the joint press conference has left the Valley largely disappointed. It remains to be seen how the situation will unfold in the coming days.