Although it is forest land, we have provided facilities for Amarnath yatris here for years. The Tourism Department, which handled facilities for yatris even before the Shrine Board was formed, provided excellent facilities this year too. In fact, yatris would have had to pay the Shrine Board were it not for the Centre providing subsidies so as to offer free facilities.
The J&K government decided to make the Governor the head of the Amarnath Shrine Board as he would be more acceptable than the Muslim Chief Minister. Governor Sinha was intent on getting the land transferred to the Shrine Board. Jammu ministers backed it, making it a prestige issue. So let us remember that the state cabinet approved it.
When the issue blew up in everybody’s faces, we responded to the Kashmiri people. When statements of Arun Kumar, at that time Principal Secretary to the Governor and Secretary of the Shrine Board, provoked people, the Chief Secretary pulled him up.
As for the Jammu agitation, we handled it with moderate firmness. The new Governor didn’t believe in brutal use of force. He faced a tough problem, since many civil servants sympathised with the agitation and even went on to assist the agitators.
As for the so-called ‘economic blockade’, the fact is that the Jammu-Srinagar highway was only affected for three-four days. After that, the Army has kept it open.
The Home Minister tried to solve the problem by leading an all-party delegation to Jammu — and then to the Valley too — for talks with the agitators and political parties. When the Sangharsh Samiti refused to sit if the Kashmiri political leaders were present, they volunteered to leave to facilitate the discussions.
The Home Minister was busy meeting politicians and officials in Srinagar. That’s the only reason why he couldn’t find the time to meet the local traders.
Such vast numbers of Kashmiris were not expected to take to the streets on August 11. Trucks prepared to go to Muzaffarabad from Srinagar had been confiscated or disabled the previous evening. But the Governor didn’t want to impose curfew in Kashmir so soon after taking charge.
The Army hasn’t been deployed. The CRPF and state police have exercised extraordinary restraint, given the abuse, pelting and direct provocations by agitators. The local police have done sterling work, even though some have been killed, injured, beaten and there has been arson at police stations and officers’ homes. We are not perpetrators.