Union home minister Rajnath Singh will visit Kashmir on Wednesday for the second time in a month as the Centre stepped up efforts to end seven weeks of violence that has left 67 dead and over 10,000 injured.
Singh’s two-day visit follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with opposition leaders from Jammu & Kashmir on Monday. Expressing “deep concern and pain” at the prolonged unrest, he asked them to convey his sentiments to the people that those who lost their lives were “part of us, our nation”, a remark that was seen as softening of the Centre’s approach towards protesters.
The PM’s reconciliatory tone ahead of Singh’s visit to Kashmir raised expectations about the possibility of engagement with Hurriyat leaders. Home ministry sources, however, said Singh, accompanied by home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, will meet civil society members and the thrust of the visit will be on employment generation for Kashmiri youth.
“No one has contacted us officially or even through back channels,” moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told HT.
A day before Singh’s visit, separatists also upped the ante with Mirwaiz writing to Pope Francis of Vatican, Dalai Lama, Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi and many ambassadors seeking their help to find a solution to the problem, which “India and Pakistan cannot and are not able to do on their own”.
“The All Parties Hurriyat Conference of Kashmir, which I chair, believes that a war is being waged against us by the ‘democratic’ Indian state, in total violation of all democratic norms. The security machinery of India has embarked upon the strategy of ruthlessly crushing us and our resistance to its unprecedented brutality,” he said.
Army chief Gen Dalbir Singh was in Srinagar on Tuesday to review the security situation. He appealed to people to shun violence and also asked security forces to “uphold human rights and exercise maximum possible restraint while dealing with the protesting mobs”.
The security establishment in New Delhi remains confident that the cycle of violence, triggered by the killing of Hijbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8, could be contained. The Centre has asked security forces to strictly implement curfew in the Valley.
A senior official said that curfew restrictions were not being implemented strictly due to “non-availability of requisite number of boots on ground.” Around 15,000 paramilitary personnel, who were deployed for security during the Amarnath Yatra, have now been pressed for law and order duties in the Valley, taking the total paramilitary strength to 60,000.
As per home ministry data, 5,197 security personnel and around 5,600 civilians have been injured in clashes so far.
The focus of Singh’s visit, said home ministry officials, will be on quick employment generation through skill development schemes such as Udaan and Himayat and also through recruitment in paramilitary forces and India Reserve battalions.
The Congress welcomed Singh’s visit and said the government should start the dialogue process immediately and decide who to hold the dialogue with.
The opposition party also said that dialogue was the way forward for peace in the Valley and not guns, lathicharge or use of tear gas and pellet guns.
“We had informed the Prime Minister that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is very bad. We requested him to start the dialogue process. Who to talk to and when -- they should at least make an announcement and start the process,” said Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
“He (Singh) should keep going there. But, I don’t think by using guns and by lathicharge or by using tear gas and pellet guns we can bring peace there. Peace will come only by dialogue,” he added.