Purchasing apple in Jehangir Chowk was a well thought-out part of union home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde’s maiden visit to Kashmir to send a feel-good message across the world, reports KASHMIR LIFE’s Delhi desk.

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde buying fruits at lal Chowk Srinagar-Photo:Bilal Bahadur.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde buying fruits at lal Chowk Srinagar-Photo:Bilal Bahadur.

When a top bureaucrat at the union home ministry was asked to differentiate working with his previous boss P. Chidambaram and the latest entrant 61-year-old Sushil Kumar Shinde, he quipped, “The former was an administrator like us, sharp in memory, quick in decisions, but low on public contacts. The current one is a politician, weighs political fallouts before taking the leap.” Another former top official associated with the home ministry also said the chief ministers of Indian states would feel more comfortable with Shinde against his predecessor who used to rub them the wrong way.

Shinde’s personal clout and penchants hovered heavily during his first Kashmir visit since he assumed office in North Block. Those associated closely with him say he had explored an ideal photo-op to carry out message that Kashmir was returning to normalcy. “And then he himself enquired, how it could be to roam on the busy Lal Chowk, to provide a statement to go internationally through photographs that disturbances were a thing of past,” they say. The intelligence and security agencies were consulted, who approved but asked him to keep it confidential even from Jammu and Kashmir police.

Early morning, the central intelligence agencies in civics had taken over Lal Chowk in the summer capital. The Jammu and Kashmir police was informed just an hour before to undertake a security drill. When the home minister was told that some youth particularly from nearby Maisuma may try to group and shout slogans in favour of Azadi or Pakistan. He replied, “I am a politician, will handle it.”

Shinde arrived in Srinagar and took almost everyone by surprise when he went to shop in Lal Chowk. Referring to his three-day visit to J&K, Shinde said he was happy to see smiles on faces of people in the Valley. “I went to the market in a private car without any security and roamed as you people do in Delhi,” he said.

Shinde extensively toured Srinagar and also went to pray at Chrar-e-Sharief shrine located in Budgam district during his visit. The Omar Abdullah government has been pressing for partial removal of AFSPA and earmarked Srinagar and Budgam district for pullout of Army personnel. That, however didn’t happen, “The Centre will wait for some more time before taking any decision on the demand for revocation of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir. It has been a peaceful year in the valley. People there are very brave and we only want their cooperation,,” Shinde said in New Delhi.

Shinde was also particular to use conciliatory tones, though he was asked to use the opportunity to warn Pakistan for ceasefire violations, and also to militants and separatists. He refrained from using provocative language.  Ahead of leaving for Srinagar, he had told his advisors that he wanted to reach out to general public in Kashmir and would also like to make headway to resume the stalled dialogue with separatists as well.

Being essentially a grass root political leader from Dalit background, Shinde, during his stint as chief minister of Maharashtra allotted land and gave funds to Sarhad Bhavan in Pune where 160 Kashmiri students are currently studying. Besides, around 200 students are pursuing medical, engineering and other courses facilitated by Sarhad. “Shinde is our patron and he has been associated with us for last 20 years,” said Sarhad founder, Sanjay Nehar.

He said Shinde has always supported and encouraged them to work for Kashmir. “During his Chief Ministership, Shinde was instrumental in giving practical shape to Sarhad’s educational projects. His ideas about empowerment in Kashmir have always been a guiding force”. Shinde also had sent a terse message to police and other organisations against harrassement of Kashmiri students, which had become a routine in most parts of India.

Politically also, Shinde is not a novice to Kashmir as he was in-charge General Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir from 1992 to 1997 when separatist militancy was at its peak. “It was a difficult time but we managed to work and were able to hold election in Jammu and Kashmir,” he recently told a close associate recalling his association with the former J&K Pradesh Congress Chief chief Ghulam Rasool Kar.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here