Signalling differences with ally BJP and its government at the Centre, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday criticised the recent arrests of separatist leaders, saying, “You cannot kill an idea. You cannot jail an idea”. Using her party’s 18th raising day rally to send across a rare and stern message to the Centre, Mehbooba also warned that her government would not allow any move to close cross-LoC trade and the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road link. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is reported to have recommended the closure of cross-LoC trade.
“Today, we have the biggest challenge before us… Today’s human being isn’t scared of the task force (counter-insurgency wing of the police), isn’t scared of police, isn’t scared of army. It is a different challenge — the challenge is an idea, because of which stones are thrown and guns are used here, because of which there is turmoil in Kashmir,’’ she said. “I have been saying this again and again. You cannot kill an idea, you cannot jail an idea. An idea can change into a better idea.” Stating that “Kashmir is caged in a prison”, she said, “As Mufti Sahib (late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed) would say, open roads… Kargil-Askardu, Jammu-Saikot and Leh- Xingjian, Kashmir should be set free.”
“Earlier, we faced this challenge alone. But today, I am appealing to all parties, whether the NC, Congress, BJP, Communists or any other party, to sit together and find the remedy for Kashmir, because we are all one… We are Kashmiris, if a policeman is martyred or a young man walking on the street is martyred, they are all (from) Jammu and Kashmir, and those who misguide are also people of J&K,” she said. Speaking to The Sunday Express after the rally, Mehbooba said any move to close cross-LoC trade would “undo the achievements that we have made in the past”.
“We need to move forward, not backward,’’ she said. “Reconciliation and dialogue are the only way. I have appealed to all the political parties to come forward so that we can sit down and discuss how to move forward. Guns, violence and arrests are not a solution,” she said. “I see no choice but to make borders irrelevant, and that cannot be done without opening of roads for movement of people and goods,” she added.
In her speech, Mehbooba pointed out “there are many problems” at the Wagah border. “Charas and fukki (ganja) also come from there. But nobody talks about closing that route. If somebody commits any mistake through Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, (it should not lead) to the mistake of closing this road. We will never let this happen. We are for opening of more routes,” she said. Referring to cross-LoC movement of goods and people, Mehbooba said “there should be body scanners so that we will know what is coming from there and what we are sending to the other part of Kashmir. Whatever PDP has achieved from 2002, it needs to be taken forward.”
Stating that her party seeks to make J&K a bridge between India and Pakistan, she said: “J&K is the crown of India, and the country is incomplete without J&K. But respect needs to be given to this crown. And the crown should be placed with dignity. We never changed our stance or speeches. For us, the important thing is that J&K should be taken out from this crisis with dignity.” “I appeal to the Centre that the approach adopted by (former Prime Minister A B) Vajpayeeji, when there was ceasefire along the borders, should be taken forward and the Lahore declaration should be made alive again so that people of J&K can live peacefully,” she said.
Mehbooba also used today’s speech to reach out to the people living across the LoC. “I also appeal to the people of other Kashmir. Come send your children to me here. Send them here on tour for 10-15 days. They will see how we are living here. What are our problems and what are our comforts. Our children should also go there. Their students should come here and our students should go there,” she said. Pointing out that seats are reserved for “other Kashmir” in the J&K Assembly, she said: “We should sit together to fill those vacancies through nominations. Once a year, we should meet here, and once in the other Kashmir. We should talk about tourism, opening of Sharada Peeth, and travel.”
Explaining Mehbooba’s statement, senior PDP leader and Public Works Minister Nayeem Akhtar told The Sunday Express: “We say that there is this idea, the idea of Azadi. Denying it or trying to curb it will not solve the issue. We can only do so through dialogue and discussion… We have tried everything and failed. From war to half-baked peace processes, we have been using all sorts of weapons. We have used force earlier too. We have used all kinds of methods, but the problem has not gone away.”
“We need a discussion with those who believe in the idea of Azadi… with those promoting Azadi. We need to talk to them and discuss the feasibility of Azadi, the idea of Azadi the way they envision it — and tell them how it is not feasible in that form. This hasn’t happened earlier. This is the only thing we haven’t done. Use of force won’t solve our problem. We need to tell them that this region is suffering, we are all suffering because of this confrontation — we need to sit with them and not deny it, and instead try and curb it,” said Akhtar.
“But to do this, we need to ensure that the confidence in the Constitution and the idea of India especially for us isn’t shaken. If the special constitutional arrangement between the state and the Union is tampered with, it will shake the confidence of those who believe in the Constitution and idea of Iindia in Kashmir. We (mainstream parties) will have nothing to explain our political beliefs,” he said.
The PDP rally, one of the biggest rallies in the city after last year’s unrest, was a show of strength. It was attended by party workers from across the Valley, including South Kashmir — a region which has seen turmoil since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani last July. Speaking at an event in New Delhi on Friday, Mehbooba had described the arrests of separatist leaders as “administrative measures”, adding that “administrative measures only contain the issue, they do not resolve it.”