The battle-hardened members of the all-party delegation that arrived here on Monday were bowled over when schoolchildren delivered a simple one-liner: We are like your children and should be treated likewise.
Political issues such as the alleged state repression, restoration of autonomy, withdrawal of the army and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, removal of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah were kept aside for a while and the atmosphere in the heavily-guarded auditorium turned emotional.
The delegation leader, Home Minister P Chidambaram, said the Sher-e-Kashmir Convention Complex on the banks of the Dal Lake: “We hope and believe that the honour, dignity and future of Kashmiris are secure as part of India.”
The unrest in the Kashmir Valley since June 11 resulted in the death of 107 people, mostly teenagers and young men.
Besides Chidambaram, the delegation comprises Parliamentary Affairs Minister PK Bansal from the Congress, the BJP’s Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, the CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta, National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah and the Lok Janashakti Party’s Ramvilas Paswan, among others.
It’s for the first time in 20 years that a delegation has come to visit the Valley. In 1990, an all-party delegation, including then PM Rajiv Gandhi, offered the Bhutan model to Kashmiris, which was firmly rejected by the separatists.
Earlier, the meeting looked like a futile exercise, with the PDP saying the curfew wouldn’t allow people’s voices to reach Delhi.
Some even expressed displeasure over the presence of NC President Farooq Abdullah. A senior politician said : “Since he is the CM’s father and head of the ruling party, he should have not been there.”
By the end of the day, however, the delegates did manage to have sent some positive vibes. Small groups of delegates, especially the Left party delegates, took the initiative to meet the separatists at their residences, as they rejected the invite.
The delegation also met representatives of mainstream parties, besides trade associations, labour unions and NGOs. But even politicians demanded the delegation meet victims of violence. “Leave Geelani, the Mirwaiz and Yasin. Please meet the man in the street,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to a group.