New Delhi: “No point going all the way to Kashmir just to meet apple growers,” this acerbic comment from an opposition leader to Home Minister Rajnath Singh exposed the fault lines within the all-party delegation ahead of its two-day visit to the troubled state. At an argumentative preparatory meeting in Delhi, the government and the opposition leaders brainstormed and often disagreed over the best approach in bringing a healing touch to a wounded Valley.
The key debate was whether the delegates should meet with separatists and secessionists, who demand ‘Azaadi’ from the Indian union, represented by the Hurriyat Conference.
At least four senior leaders – Sitaram Yechury of the CPI (M), D Raja of the CPI, Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and cabinet minister and chief of Lok Jan Shakti Party Ram Vilas Paswan batted in favour of inviting the Hurriyat for talks.
When told that the Hurriyat had already taken a cussed position of no dialogue in the present circumstances, these leaders argued that the onus was still on the political establishment to extend a hand. “If they say no after we send letters of invite, so be it, then the onus is on them. But let us at least send the letters,” Mr Yechury and Mr Owaisi are reported to have told the Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at the meeting.
Mr Paswan, who was a member of the all-party delegation during the Kashmir unrest of 2010, recalled how he had met with separatists in the Valley during his visit and said, “Those meetings had a healing touch, we should try them again”.
Mr Singh remained non-committal on this proposal and said it had been left to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to determine who the delegation would meet.
Several opposition leaders then proposed a visit to different hospitals in the city to meet those injured by the use of controversial pellet guns as well the injured security personnel. Many Kashmiris have been partially or permanently blinded by pellets. Mr Singh however said to have explained that a visit to the hospitals in the current environment was “too volatile”.
Mr Singh said he had also been advised by security agencies against hospital visits on his two trips to the Valley because of apprehensions of agitation and demonstrations even inside the hospitals. The opposition leaders still insisted that they be allowed to visit hospitals saying it “is the right of people to protest.”
For the first time, the government has shared with the opposition, its formal security assessment of the ground situation – on the 57th day of turmoil in the Kashmir Valley. A background note on the government’s assessment of the top ten challenges in the Kashmir Valley were shared with all the parties.
Interestingly, topping the list of what the government considers its biggest difficulty in the state was “social media and false rumours,” an acknowledgment of a new phase in militancy in Kashmir where young, educated locals like Burhan Wani have picked up the gun while actively using social media as a weapon of war, releasing videos on YouTube and other internet platforms regularly.
The government has also flagged its concern over “armed militants addressing rallies”, an alarming phenomenon not seen since the early 90s. The government argues that an increased religious radicalism has thrown up new problems in countering the agitation and protests.
NDTV has exclusively accessed the note that lists the top ten hurdles in the Kashmir as identified by the government; these are:
1. Use of social media for spreading rumours and for instigating youth to lead and mobilize violent mobs
2. Stone pelting on security forces by the radicalised and incited youth
3. Armed militants are also mixed with stone pelting mobs and addressing rallies
4. Militants using cover of such agitating mobs, have been firing at security forces and lobbing grenades, provoking security forces to retaliate
5. Attacks/threats on government officers, political representatives and families of policemen
6. No identifiable leadership to protests
7. Infiltration attempts from Pakistan continue
8. Common people are facing hardships because of continuous Hartal (strikes) calls and forced bandhs (shut downs)
9. Several peaceful protests with anti-India and pro-Pakistan ‘azaadi’ slogans
10. Challenge of radicalisation
The all-party delegation arrives in Srinagar tomorrow. On Monday, it will also head out to Jammu to meet civil society members. Several opposition leaders have urged the government to make sure the visit is not a “wasted opportunity”.