If Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to J&K was expected to herald a political outreach to Valley to address the ongoing turmoil, then Kashmiris were in for a disappointment. For Singh said nothing that constituted a substantive policy announcement to address the sources of the current trouble in the state.
He reiterated the longstanding Government stand that no third party involvement was needed to address the situation in Kashmir. But he had nothing to say about talks with Pakistan, blaming the neighbouring country instead for instigating “our youth” to pick up arms. He evaded questions about the revocation of AFSPA or tackling the current unrest in the state politically.
To the questions as to whether centre had any political response to the crisis up its sleeve, the home minister said the government will “take every necessary step to normalize the situation in the state”.
Singh, however, made some good noises, saying the centre didn’t want a relationship with J&K based only on needs. “We want an emotional bond with the state,” he said adding he had come to visit the state because the centre felt the pain of the people. The Home Minister added he was saddened by the loss of the lives of innocent people.
“I have told the security forces to exercise the maximum restraint,” Singh said while refusing to blame them for the excesses. “It were these very security personnel who when Kashmir was flooded in 2014 put their lives on line to save the people. We should not forget that”.
One positive announcement was the formation of an expert committee which will review the use of the pellet guns in the state. However, the decision to set up the committee was taken before Singh’s visit to the state. So there was nothing new in what Singh had to say on this.
Unlike 2010, when centre had rushed the all party delegation and later appointed a three–member panel of interlocutors to tide over the ferment, Singh raised no such hopes, repeating that “all necessary steps” will be taken to usher in peace in the Valley.
The visit has therefore made little difference to the anger in the state. The well-known trading and the civil society organizations refused to meet the home minister, arguing similar meetings in the past had been of no use and were “not built upon to pursue an honest and meaningful engagement with the state”. The government had to fly in the President of Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry to Srinagar for the meeting with home minister. Besides, a delegation of the religious preachers, some of them ferried in ambulances also had an interaction with Singh.
The only take-away from Singh’s visit is his promise to review the government’s policy on the use of pellet guns which have wrought havoc in Valley by blinding more than a hundred youth.
The visit has thus come as a huge disappointment in Valley as it has only conveyed that the centre wants to continue with the security response to the current crisis and expect it to blow over in near future.
After her meeting with Singh, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti told media that she wanted the centre to extend the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to J&K like the revocation of AFSPA from a few areas “on experimental basis” and ask the forces to vacate the places which are under Army’s occupation”.
“It is unfortunate that everyone remembers Kashmir only when something untoward happens here,” she said. “During normal days no heed is paid to Kashmir and its issues which cannot be resolved through money only.”