A Congress panel headed by former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday asked the centre and Jammu and Kashmir government to keep the dialogue route with separatists open. The party delegation is on a two-day visit to Kashmir to attend a series of meetings on the current situation in the valley. The AICC’s ‘Policy and Planning’ group was formed in April in the wake of widespread violence in the state during the Srinagar Lok Sabha bypolls.
The other members of the group include Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Union home minister P Chidambaram and party general secretary Ambika Soni. Immediately after their arrival, the group held an executive committee meeting of Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee at Hari Niwas in Srinagar, a party spokesman said. He said the group was scheduled to meet various delegations from Kashmir, including opposition parties.
“Apart from the political parties, the group will interact with several other delegations like civil society organisations, Shia associations, a delegation of 2014 flood victims, saffron growers, houseboat associations, trade and tourism delegations as well as a delegation of journalists,” the spokesman said. However, meeting separatist leaders is not part of the group’s agenda, he said.
Speaking to reporters on sidelines of the meeting, Azad said the central, as well as the state government, should keep the dialogue route with separatists open. “The central, as well as the state government, have to decide which stakeholders to talk to. Everyone knows who the stakeholders are, but they are afraid to take the names. And when they are afraid to even identify them as stakeholders, how will there be a resolution? They (central and state governments) should talk to them (separatists) and try to resolve the issue,” the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha said. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections by raising the emotions of people but has remained silent since taking over the reins of the country.
“Modi’s election win was 90 percent because of Kashmir. In our rule, one soldier was beheaded by Pakistani troops (along the Line of Control), but such instances have happened a number of times now in their (BJP) rule, and still the prime minister is silent,” he said. The former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir said the Congress government had made south Kashmir militancy-free, but the region had been on the boil since the PDP-BJP coalition came to power in the state.
“We had made south Kashmir militancy-free during my tenure (as chief minister) in 2007. But, where is south Kashmir today? It is boiling. No one is coming to Kashmir, no tourist. The number of ceasefire violations in these three years is more than the total in 10 years of UPA,” he claimed. “So many soldiers have been killed, common people injured…and the way small kids including girls have lost their eyes, it did not happen during our time,” he said in an apparent reference to a series of stone pelting incidents in the valley.
Asked about the party’s stand on Article 35A of the constitution, the senior Congress leader said the party knew its stand, but the group was here to listen to people. Article 35A renders special status to the northern state. “Firstly, we have come to listen to all. So, we have not come here only for 35-A. This committee was formed much before the issue of 35-A erupted. The panel was formed keeping in view the overall situation of Jammu and Kashmir which has deteriorated under the BJP rule,” he said.
The Congress will hold a meeting with MLAs and MLCs, besides interacting with a delegation of minority community and fruit growers, on Sunday. The party had completed the first leg of its tour in Jammu on September 10 and 11.