All-party visit: J&K government keeps off Kashmir issue, separatists off talks

After pressure from opposition MPs, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti wrote a letter to the separatist leadership requesting them to meet the visiting delegation, but only in her capacity as PDP president.

By: Express News Service | Srinagar | Updated: September 5, 2016 8:42 am
Home Minister Rajnath Singh chairing the meeting of the all-party delegation in Srinagar on Sunday; (below) Sitaram Yechury, D Raja turned away from Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s house. PTI

PROTESTS continued outside, separatists stayed away while the J&K government didn’t raise the Kashmir problem at all as the all-party delegation of parliamentarians met representatives on the first day of its visit to the Valley.

While a delegation of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party that met the 28-member all-party team, which arrived on Sunday and will be in Kashmir for another day, stressed that “there is an urgent need to initiate a result-oriented dialogue to solve the Kashmir issue”, the PDP-BJP government kept its presentation to mostly discussing development.

There was no formal invitation to the separatists from the all-party delegation, the Centre or the J&K government. After pressure from opposition MPs, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti wrote a letter to the separatist leadership requesting them to meet the visiting delegation, but only in her capacity as PDP president. When four of the MPs from the all-party Delhi team went to try and meet separatist leaders in the evening, they were turned away. Hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani refused to even meet them.

An MP who was part of the all-party delegation told The Indian Express that the official presentation made by J&K Finance Minister and senior PDP leader Haseeb Drabu centered around release of funds by the Centre, review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and banning of pellet guns.

“Drabu didn’t say anything about engagement with the Hurriyat or Pakistan but restricted his presentation only to development,” the MP said. The J&K minister reportedly also told the delegation that “the PDP’s alliance with the BJP has created a new situation and different people have reacted differently to it”.

Sources said the CM spoke very briefly before Drabu took over. Mehbooba reportedly told the delegation that false propaganda was being created and that the situation would come under control soon. She also claimed that the situation had been simmering for long and the killing of Burhan Wani, the militant leader shot on July 8, was only a trigger.

In a Facebook post later, Mehbooba said she had called for “unconditional talks with all stakeholders” at the meeting. “Met the ‘All Party Delegation’ at S.K.I.C.C today and pitched for unconditional talks with all stakeholders… Also committed to help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections. This dialogue seeks to build a broad-based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K.”

Thousands of protesters took to the streets as the all-party delegation held its meetings, including in Srinagar and across Kashmir. At Shopian, the protesters set ablaze the district’s Mini Secretariat after 275 protesters were injured in police and CRPF firing; 15 among them are critical. In Wadoora, Sopore, a teenager is serious after being hit by a teargas shell on his head, while in Srinagar’s Noorbagh, six people were injured in Sunday’s violence, including a six-year-old boy.

Apart from leaders of the National Conference, Congress, PDP and BJP, CPM legislator M Y Tarigami, Independent legislator Engineer Rashid, former minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, Vice-Chancellor of Central University Prof Mehraj-ud-Din (who came in an ambulance), a fruit grower from Baramulla, M Yusuf Dar, and the chairman of Srinagar’s Delhi Public School, Vijay Dhar, met the all-party delegation. Three of the visitors claimed to represent a virtually unknown ‘Kashmir Media Association’.

The 10-member PDP team that met the delegation was led by senior leader Sartaj Madni. “We told them there was an urgent need to initiate result-oriented dialogue to solve the Kashmir issue. We raised the same issues which were the founding principles of our party — peace, dialogue and reconciliation,” Madni said. He said they also raised the issue of pellet guns.

Asked later by reporters why the government had not released separatists if it wanted to talk to them, Madni, who was at pains to differentiate between the stand of the PDP as a party and as government, said Mehbooba as party chief had written to them, and had they expressed their desire to participate in the talks, the government would have facilitated the same.

Among other demands made before the delegation were plebiscite, and setting up of a parliamentary team with powers to make mandatory recommendations.

The BJP team pinned the blame for the violence in the Valley on Pakistan, and called for tough measures.

AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of the all-party delegation, demanded to know from Mehbooba why incidents of stone-pelting and violence were rising in south Kashmir, her party PDP’s stronghold.

Congress and NC leaders, including former chief minister Omar Abdullah, said the problem had shot up since the PDP-BJP alliance came to power, a delegation member told The Express.

However, as per a member, the general refrain was “not to create problems” for the CM at this critical juncture.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, also a part of the all-party delegation, stressed “the need to engage with all stakeholders, including Hurriyat leaders”. “When we arrived here, we didn’t see the names of Hurriyat leaders in the list of people who we were going to meet. I want to engage them so that we are able to restore peace and tranquillity here,” he said, while also calling for a discussion on promises to the Valley that hadn’t been fulfilled.

Later, Yechury, along with JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, CPI leader D Raja and the RJD’s Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav, went to meet imprisoned separatist leaders. They first headed for the Joint Interrogation Centre at Humhama where JKLF leader Yasin Malik is jailed, but emerged within five minutes. “Malik told us he would not discuss the current situation. He told us he would come there (to Delhi) and meet us,” Sharad Yadav said.

Senior separatist leader Shabir Shah, who is also jailed, told the MPs he couldn’t talk with them at this point.

Sources said senior Hurriyat leader Prof Abdul Gani Bhat told the MPs the same, while telling them their concerns were laudable.

Later, the four MPs went to the residence of Geelani, who is under house arrest. Through the locked main entrance of Geelani’s house, an aide told the visitors the Hurriyat leader didn’t want to meet them. Sharad Yadav, who was walking slowly, was told by Raja before he could reach Geelani’s door that the separatist leader did not want to meet them.

A disappointed Yechury said they had only come to show solidarity.

Asked why neither leaders of the ruling BJP nor the opposition Congress had come with them to meet the separatist leaders, he said, “They alone can explain that.”

Sharad Yadav confirmed that the separatist leaders had refused to talk on any political issue. CPM MLA Tarigami, who was earlier asked to coordinate the delegation’s meeting with separatist leaders, did not accompany them.

Owaisi went separately to Chashma Shahi sub-jail where Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is imprisoned. He told the media “Mirwaiz is very upset about the killings that are taking place and told me they have decided not to meet anyone, to talk to anyone, because the government is not serious about political dialogue”.

The group comprising Yechury, Sharad Yadav, Raja and Narayan Yadav could not meet the Mirwaiz. They kept waiting for nearly 25 minutes at the sub-jail.

The MPs were accompanied by a huge contingent of police, with security forces lining both sides of the road to keep out protesters. However, a small crowd gathered outside Geelani’s house and took on the parliamentarians, shouting azadi slogans and telling them “Go India, go back”. A lawyer, Bashir Ahmad Jalla, told the MPs, “You must urge your government to stop our massacre. We are also human beings.”

Sharad Yadav said, “Our purpose is to help bring normalcy to Kashmir because that is in the interest of Bharat Varsh. We have been consistently raising the issue… It doesn’t matter whether anybody talks to us or not, we will keep on coming and trying.”

A joint statement later issued by Geelani, Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik said, “In politics, India has deployed deceit, double talk, themselves and through their quislings, continuously for the past 70 years. These deceitful methods of crisis management through parliamentary delegations and Track-II only prolong the sufferings of the people and can’t take the place of a genuine, transparent, agenda-based dialogue to address the core issue of the people’s right to self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Late in the evening, the all-party delegation met Governor N N Vohra, who briefed them on the situation and the measures which needed to be taken to restore normalcy.