SRINAGAR: On a mission to restore peace to the Kashmir Valley, the high-level all-party delegation led by the Union Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram on Monday held discussions with various shades of opinion including the hardline separatist leader, Mr Syed Ali Shah Geelani who was met by some key members of the visiting team.
Mr Chidambaram said the team had come with an “open mind” and the main purpose was to interact with people, listen to them patiently and “carve out a path for taking Kashmir out of this present cycle of violence.” The Home Minister promised the people of the state that their future, honour and dignity are secure as part of India. “We hope and believe that the honour, dignity and future of Kashmiris are secure as part of India,” he said promising a patient hearing to the people of Kashmir.
Although Mr Geelani and his moderate rivals, Mr Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman, Mr Mohammad Yasin Malik had turned down the invitation to meet the delegation, the all-party initiative went out of its way to reach out to the separatists in a bid to address the genuine grievances of the people.
The demands of the mainstream political parties before the 36-member all-party delegation ranged from restoration of autonomy to withdrawing all security forces from the state. The delegation arrived here on Monday morning and got straight into business by meeting representatives of various mainstream regional as well as national parties at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) located on the banks of the famous Dal Lake. These included leaders of the ruling National Conference-Congress alliance and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
A flurry of behind-the-scene activities culminated into a five-member team led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, Mr Sitaram Yechury meeting Mr Geelani while another team met the chairman of the moderate Hurriyat faction, Mr Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at his Nigeen residence. The separatists were urged to join the fresh initiative at the national level aimed at addressing the ongoing unrest in Kashmir.
Mr Geelani neither went to meet the delegation nor sent any memorandum. Five members of the delegation including Mr Yechury and Mr Asaduddin Owaisi went to his residence where the 80-year old leader bluntly aired his separatist views. Mr Geelani harped on his much-publicised pre-conditions including that of declaring Jammu and Kashmir a dispute before starting a dialogue process. He wanted complete demilitarisation of the Valley. He told them normalcy cannot be restored in Jammu and Kashmir unless the security forces are withdrawn and New Delhi recognises Kashmir as a dispute.
“Discuss the question of Jammu and Kashmir as a dispute. It is not an integral part of India,” he said when Mr Yechury pleaded for restoration of normalcy with the separatist leader who has been one of the key players in the three-month long agitation by issuing periodic calendars of protests. The Mirwaiz urged the delegation members to get the Parliament to pass a resolution putting an end to the unabated killings in Kashmir and for starting a sustained dialogue process for resolution of Kashmir issue. Mr Yechury urged Mr Geelani to help in putting an end to the atmosphere of unrest, which is an imperative for starting a meaningful dialogue for discussing the Kashmir issue.
Mr Gurudas Dasgupta, who was leading the team which met the Mirwaiz, candidly told him that anything short of ‘azadi’ can be discussed and negotiated. He said autonomy to the state can be discussed but he was not in a position to respond to the ‘azadi’ remark made by the Mirwaiz. The Mirwaiz, who had tied a black arm band as a mark of protest against the killings, responded saying the government of India should be willing to discuss even the ‘azadi’ sentiment as people of Kashmir not only want peace but a solution to the dispute as well.
The delegation that included Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, Ms Sushma Swaraj and Mr Arun Jaitley, Mr Yechury and Mr Dasgupta embarked on a two-day visit to the state to assess the ground situation against the backdrop of unabated unrest that has claimed over 100 lives in the last three months. There has also been a strong demand for withdrawal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act from NC, PDP and other sections in the state.
The National Conference team which was headed by state Finance Minister, Mr Abdul Rahim Rather demanded restoration of autonomy that existed prior to 1953 as the best solution to resolve the Kashmir issue. PDP president, Ms Mehbooba Mufti stayed away from the meet herself and instead sent a 15-member delegation asking the Centre to come out with “out of box solutions” for resolving the Kashmir issue. Ms Mehbooba accused the state government of repressive measures and trying to hijack the delegation. However, the gesture of the PDP was not seen in good light by the delegation members who wanted the party’s top brass to come and discuss the situation with the visiting team.
In the post-lunch session, the delegation met representative of chambers, students’ unions, taxi-driver union and those related to tourism field. This delegation had come despite a call given by Mr Geelani asking these bodies to boycott the meeting. The delegation will be flying to Jammu on Tuesday but before that they might visit Tangmarg for an on-the-spot assessment of September 13 incidents of arson in which a missionary school and several government buildings were set ablaze by a mob. Five persons were killed in this incident after police had to fire at the unruly crowd, who were protesting against the alleged desecration of Holy Quran in the United States.