Questioned by the Opposition over moves to turn the heat on Valley separatists by downgrading their security and slashing perks, the government Wednesday assured members of an all party-delegation which visited Jammu and Kashmir that it was “neither doing anything nor contemplating” any action without political consensus.
This was the first issue raised by Opposition members at the follow-up meeting of the all-party delegation, chaired by Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, who spoke first, began by saying that the “government has already limited the scope of discussions” by indicating it would place restrictions on separatist leaders.
At this, Rajnath Singh interrupted to say that reports on the government’s plans had been “misrepresented”. A day earlier, government sources had briefed reporters on plans to scale down security cover provided to separatist leaders, stop facilitating their travel outside the country, curb benefits such as accommodation in state guest houses.
The follow-up meeting ended with the all-party delegation passing a resolution asking governments at the Centre and state to talk to “all stakeholders”, a term which Opposition members said “obviously includes Hurriyat”.
The resolution, expressing “serious concern on the prevailing situation” in Jammu and Kashmir, stated that “members of the delegation are of the opinion that there is no place for violence in a civilised society” and “there can be no compromise on the issue of national sovereignty”.
Appealing to the people of the state to “shun the path of violence and resolve all issues through dialogue and discussion”, delegation members “requested the central and state governments to take steps for dialogue with all stakeholders… ensure that educational institutions, government offices and commercial establishments start functioning normally at the earliest”.
Asked by reporters whether the government was open to talks with separatists, Jitendra Singh, MoS in PMO, said, “We have said we are open to speak to all stakeholders, whoever has any input. It means what it means.”
Asked if action would be taken against separatists, Singh said: “Let a consensus evolve. But certainly, there are no two opinions that the situation has to be dealt with effectively.”
LJP leader and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said: “If you raise Pakistan flags and shout anti-India and pro-ISI slogans, there is a limit to which the state government and Centre will tolerate. However, we have already said that there should be dialogue with all stakeholders and anyone who wishes to talk under the framework of the Constitution.”
CPM leader Sitaram Yechury — along with three others from the delegation, he had gone to meet Hurriyat hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Srinagar but was turned away — underlined the need to talk to all sections. He pointed out that they met four of five separatist leaders.
Opposition members sought an assurance on removal of AFSPA from civilian areas and talks with Pakistan when Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Islamabad for the SAARC summit in November. But there was no assurance from the government on the two issues — and these also found no mention in the resolution.
Yechury also admitted to differences on certain issues: “I will not say consensus but a common minimum denominator has been agreed upon.”
Asked whether he was saying that India should talk to Pakistan on Kashmir, Yechury said Pakistan should be “engaged” as “our effort should be to put Pakistan in the dock at the international level”.
“I said (to the government) you always talk of Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat. Then you should also recall that it was accompanied by unilateral ceasefire during Vajpayee’s time. Mere phrase-mongering will not be sufficient. It’s not manna that will fall from heaven.
Prime Minister talks about Vishwas and Vikas. Vishwas will come only through engagement,” Yechury said.
When Kharge was asked whether talks should also be held with Hurriyat, he said: “Yes, definitely. When we say all stakeholders, it covers all. You should speak to all stakeholders. There are four-five groups even among separatists. So our stand is: you talk to all stakeholders.”
RSP leader N K Premachandran said the Opposition wanted the government to add “dialogue with all stakeholders” in the statement which he said “also includes Hurriyat”.