Two days after storming out of a joint press conference with Union home minister Rajnath Singh in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Saturday.
Insiders say Mehbooba had a wish list that included starting dialogue with the separatist as unrest continues to roil the Valley.
The chief minister who lost her cool after being grilled by the media at the press conference is also unhappy with the centre’s slow response, PDP insiders say.
Sixty-nine people including have lost their lives in the turmoil that has been raging in Kashmir since July 8. More than two thousand protesters have been injured, mostly by pellet guns in security crackdowns. In a bid to buy peace, the Centre is awaiting an expert committee report to take a decision on a substitute for pellet guns.
In what was to be a confidence building measure Singh indicated a substitute for pellet guns that has caused a spate of blindings, was in the offing. Kashmir watchers, however, say to bring in peace, the choice of words should have been better. The promise they expected was to stop the use of excessive force and ensure a halt to civilian casualties.
“Pellet gun victims show a very barbaric face of India, it needs to be discarded immediately without waiting for any expert opinion,’’ says senior CPI(M) leader in the state Yusuf Tarigami.
Tarigami even objects to the home ministers choice of words -- ‘to find a substitute’.
“India is saying we will find a substitute to the pellets, (which) means we won’t kill you with pellets but will use an alternate method, instead of saying we won’t use force on Kashmir people. They should say killings need to be stopped,” he added.
What has added fuel to the current unrest is the chief minister’s justification for the killings saying, “people who attack the camps will get bullets”.
The National Conference reacted strongly after Mehbooba insisted that the “youth who were killed, attacked army camps and did not go there to buy toffees and milk’’. The NC called the chief minister’s statement provocative which would only worsen the situation in Kashmir.
Singh’s message during his second visit to Kashmir in a month was overshadowed by Mehbooba’s strong reaction. Experts feels, the reaction was more due to helplessness than anger. “She has nothing to say, the questions were not very provocative or tough, the fact is she has no answer,” said a senior journalist who did not want to be named. “For the state the onus of bringing peace seems to be on people,” he said.
While Singh appeared more “accommodating than in his previous visit’’, it was the ambiguity of not offering anything concrete which disappointed people. “Even the jobs they are offering is in army and police. They said 10,000 more SPOs are needed. Do they want to turn Kashmir into a police state?” he asked.
A senior PDP leader, who did not want to be quoted however, said: “Centre is ready to talk to anybody but Pakistan”.
While Singh indicated a possibility of talks “within the framework of Kashmiriyat, insaniyat and Jamhoriyat’’ (the three words have been liberally used by BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi since 2014 elections). Many in Kashmir now expect the rhetoric to be followed by concrete steps
“There was ambiguity in whatever he said, be it talks with separatists or discarding pellet guns,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, moderate separatist and valley’s head cleric.
“I think the time has come to call a spade a spade--Kashmir is a political problem, needs a political solution. India needs to acknowledge that,’’ he added.
The mainstream parties, although not dismissing the home minister’s visit entirely, want the government to walk the talk.
“Rajnath Singh’s Kashmir visit is not a big step in restoration of peace but can surely be a step forward only if there is engagement with the voices of dissent,’’ said Tarigami.
“That section of society needs to be reached out,’’ he added.
A senior National Conference leader called Singh’s visit hasty. “It was only a day earlier did the Prime Minister say there was need for dialogue. Singh should have come prepared . Such visits require the state government to do a lot of mobilisation, you have to cajole, beg, reason with people to get them to the table. Nothing of the sort happened,’’ the NC leader said.
An all-party delegation is expected to visit the restive Valley in the first week of September. “I hope there is better preparation that time’’, the NC leader hoped.