BJP president and Home Minister Amit Shah made his maiden visit to the state, distinct by refusing to meet any political party. Analysts say the message was sent out that Kashmir policy is undergoing a major shift, reports Tasavur Mushtaq
As the traffic piled up on the city roads on Wednesday, June 26, there was complete chaos. Sounded alert by the intelligence input of a possible militant attack, the security grid was on tenterhooks. Drills, area domination and quick reaction teams were put in place to deal with any eventuality. With commuters, amid security clampdown and traffic advisory, having a hard time reaching their destinations in Srinagar, Kashmir received its guest, Amit Shah, this time as the Union Home Minister.
The separatists had their own way to make Shah’s maiden visit as home minister distinct. For the first time, this was the first high profile visit when separatists sponsored no hartal. Reacting to the development, Governor Satya Pal Malik told reporters that, “they (separatists) want talks, we are not talking to them.” He even said that “Zakir Musa’s father was sitting in panchayat during government programme of back to the village.”
“The change in the scenario has happened due to an iron-fist policy of the government against terror and those funding it,” a senior police officer told Kashmir Life.
Shah’s visit is also probably the first when local political class was not invited for idea exchange. Sources said some local politicians were expecting a meeting. Some had even put a request. But Shah refused an audience and was unwilling even to say hi on the phone.
Instead, the visit coincided with raids by the IT and ACB on multiple business sites of former finance minister’s son and a former Congress minister in Jammu.
The only formal response came from former chief minister and vice-president of National Conference Omar Abdullah who took to twitter to convey: “After the two-day visit of the Union home minister to J&K, I hope there is a better understanding of the ground realities of the situation and the need to change the approach to the state.”
Meanwhile, in deviation to the set protocol, governor Malik went to receive Shah at the airport. Normally, a home minister would be received by a state minister or an adviser to the governor.
Visiting Kashmir for the first time as Home minister, there was an expectation of a “reach out”. In anticipation of the visit, Governor Malik had raised the expectations by suggesting that Hurriyat was willing to talk.
But Shah focused on security and the smooth conduct of Amarnath yatra. Starting his visit by paying obeisance at Amarnath, Shah held “special prayers”. Accompanied by Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba and other senior officials, he later held extensive review meetings to discuss arrangements for Amarnath yatra. He directed the security grid to remain on high alert and curb any kind of violence during the pilgrimage.
“There should be no laxity. Strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) must be enforced. Senior officers should personally supervise the arrangements,” directed Shah.
While reviewing the developmental scenario in the state, Shah insisted on accelerating development, building infrastructure, good governance, inclusive growth for all communities, special care about the poor and employment-generating schemes for the youth.
Reportedly not satisfied by what he was told in the meetings, Shah, sources said told clearly that “the priority should be to deal militancy effectively and diffuse disillusionment among the common people”. He had expressed his concern that “why local youth were picking up guns in the first place”.
During the meetings, Shah revealed his three-pronged strategy, “zero tolerance for terror, continuing strict action for terror funding, upholding the rule of law”. He also laid emphasis that the “benefits of growth and development reach the poorest of the poor in the state” and directed state administration to implement 354 central schemes meant for villages in the interior regions.
Regarding article 370 or 35A, Shah said Centre will take a call at an appropriate time. On the delimitation exercise, he said that “it is on the cards and the exercise will be carried out in the state”.
Next day, Shah met delegations, BJP workers and also visited the family of slain police officer Arshad Khan. He handed over a letter of appointment to his wife in the state government and praised the work of J&K Police in fighting militancy. He also met family members of BJP workers killed in the last several months and distributed cheques among them.
Unlike Shushil Kumar Shinde who as the home minister in 2012 visited city central Lal Chowk interacted with people and shopped there, Shah confined his stay around the fortified Boulevard axis.
Back in Delhi
Quickly after his touchdown in Delhi, he had three security-related meetings and the focus was Kashmir. A day later, when Shah stood up in the parliament to move his first legislative proposal, the subject was Kashmir and the occasion was to extend president’s rule in the state for another six months from July 3. However, it turned out to be a moment of chaos; shouting and cross-shouting from the treasury and opposition benches as Shah, attacking the Congress, blamed Jawaharlal Nehru for political problems and militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.
“One-third of J&K is not with us. Who is responsible for it?” asked Shah targeting the Congress and alleged that the Kashmir problem lies in the decisions made by Nehru as the prime minister.
“Why should I not refer to these incidents? The nation is paying a heavy price for these mistakes. Because of that mistake, thousands of people have been killed. Because of these mistakes, the country has become a victim of terrorism today. Why should not I take the name?” Shah reacted.
Blaming that there were election “frauds” committed in Kashmir, Shah alleged that the state elections in 1957, 1962 and 1967 were held in Jammu and Kashmir in a fraudulent manner leading doubts among commoners. “All these elections were a mockery of democracy. This was the beginning of distrust among the people of Kashmir,” he asserted.
Referring to an officer, Abdul Khaliq, who he blamed of managing the seats, Shah said “there was one Abdul Khaliq, the district magistrate of Srinagar, which then covered half of the Valley. There used to be two types of MLAs back then, one elected by people and the other by Khaliq saheb. Papers were filed before Khaliq saheb, who would accept the papers and ensure that 25-31 MLAs were elected unopposed”. Shah asserted that free and fair elections in Kashmir were conducted by Morarji Desai in 1977 and another by Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
Detailing the sequence of events which hindered the process of holding assembly elections in the state, Shah said that the government is ready for assembly election in the state “whenever Election Commission announces the schedule” and told the House that elections will be held in a “free, fair and democratic manner”.
In this maiden speech as home minister, Shah said Article 370 of the Constitution which extends special status to Jammu and Kashmir, is “temporary in nature” and “not permanent”.
Talking about the security withdrawal of protected persons in Kashmir, Shah said, the security of 919 people was withdrawn as there was no security threat for them. “Earlier people who used to speak against the country were given security cover,” he said, adding whereas those who spoke for India were actually killed in the state.
Though Shah insisted that the elections in Jammu and Kashmir will take place later this year, there are no clear assurances. This is despite the fact that the politics of the state is visibly desperate for state elections. Even in the Lok Sabha, Congress and other opposition members disputed the security justification of the government and insisted that a delimitation process is being started to delay the elections further.
In his response, Shah asserted that the state government is doing certain things that have not been done in the last many years. His focus was the security angle and said the terror is being rooted out from the state. He asserted that the Panchayats have been revived and Rs 700 crore would be directly transferred to this basic tier of governance. “Once we get the receipts, we will transfer another Rs 3000 crore,” he said, adding the people were being denied these benefits and now 40,000 elected Panchs will spend this amount.
“For the first time, the regions of Ladakh and Jammu are feeling part of the Jammu and Kashmir state,” Shah said, insisting that the regional imbalances were there. He said Modi government has been constructing 15,000 bunkers for the border population of which 4400 are ready. “We will be paying compensation for every loss that takes place on the border,” Shah said. “The reservation bill that includes International Border will benefit 3.5 lakh people living in 435 villages in Samba, Jammu and Kathua.”