Kashmir unrest: Rajnath talks peace but takes no political initiative

As reporters pounded Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti with queries regarding her governance, she took shield by calling off the press meet even as the visiting Home Minister was seated in his chair

Kashmir unrest: Rajnath talks peace but takes no political initiative

Belying all expectations that his second visit to Kashmir in a month had generated, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday had very little to offer than making an appeal to the people of Kashmir for help in restoring peace. Without taking any political initiative, he sought to address the situation through some empathetic talk and assurances of administrative measures like an early review of the use of pellet guns and the appointment of a nodal officer who would look into the complaints of Kashmiri youth studying or working in other parts of the country.

“The committee formed to look into the issue of pellet guns will submit its report within two to four days,” Singh told the media while addressing a press conference with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in Srinagar. “We hope to find a substitute to pellet guns in Kashmir soon,” he said.

Mehbooba, who was by his side, reiterated that only 5 per cent people were protesting on the streets and that the government would deal sternly with them. With a minor modification, she said: “I said that the rest of 95 per cent population also wants a Kashmir resolution but they want to pursue it peacefully”.

Mehbooba triggered some more controversy by implying in response to a question that those who had died in the protests had it coming.

"Had a kid who attacked an Army camp gone there to buy a toffee? What was a 15-year-old boy trying to at D.H. Pora police station, was he buying milk," she asked. in response to a question of growing civilian deaths. "They are being pushed into the fire and used as shields."

However, as the barrage of questions regarding her governance continued, Mehbooba lost her cool and decided to end the press meet abruptly. Immediately after differentiating the 2010 rioting and the 2016 street uprising, she got up flustered and ended the press meet saying:"Have a cup of tea", even as the visiting Home Minister was seated in his chair. It seemed that he wanted to take more questions from journalists, but was left with no choice after this.

The Home Minister said that the future of Kashmir is linked with India’s future, while appealing to “brothers and sisters in Kashmir not to play with the future of youth”.

“Not only Kashmiris, people across India are pained at killings in Kashmir,” Singh said. “The young boys who should have computers, pens and books are holding stones in their hands. Who allows them to take stones in their hands? Identify those making the trouble”.

He said that the government would soon set up a nodal agency that will look into the complaints of Kashmiri youth across the country.

“I want to inform you that the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, will appoint a nodal officer for Kashmiri youth across the country. They can call the officer on the number… we will soon announce it,” he said.

Singh also revealed that the Union Government will send an all-party delegation to Kashmir. “We want to bring all-party delegation to Kashmir. I have told to Mehbooba Mufti to make preparations,” said Singh.

He stayed short of extending an invite to the separatist groups or reveal political initiative to engage them. But he said that he was ready to talk to anybody who subscribed to the philosophy of “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat”.

Singh, however, told mediapersons that they shouldn’t doubt government’s understanding of the situation. “Don’t doubt our intelligence. We know what we are doing,” Singh said.

However, the Centre’s possible efforts at a political outreach to separatist groups are likely to be inherently hobbled by the history of its previous unproductive engagement with them. The separatists are already chary of a dialogue with New Delhi “which doesn’t promise concrete redressal of the political issues underlying the ongoing unrest”.

A leader of the Hurriyat faction led by Syed Ali Geelani said that they will respond as and when the Centre embarks on a substantive initiative on Kashmir. “The Centre has to make an offer in the light of the Geelani Sahib’s four points, one of which wants New Delhi to accept Kashmir a political dispute between India and Pakistan,” a senior Hurriyat leader Altaf Shah said adding anything that is not intended to resolve Kashmir and only an effort to buy time and enable return to the uneasy peace will not be acceptable.