Kashmir visit

Rajnath Singh succeeds in winning hearts of Kashmiris, for now

PTI10_15_2016_000249B (File photo) Home Minister Rajnath Singh

For now, the four-day long visit by Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Jammu and Kashmir seems to have struck the right chord with people of the state.

Singh made some right statements much to the comfort of the BJP's ally, the PDP, and the restive population. It's widely believed that the Centre would have to be more reconciliatory to create a semblance of normalcy in the state.

Singh's latest trip, the fifth this year, has left a positive impression. His statement that the government would not do anything that would ''go against the sentiments of the people” is seen as assurance that the BJP government in the Centre will not support scrapping of the Article 35A which prevents outsiders from settling in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Article has been challenged by an RSS-backed NGO, two women, and the West Pakistan Refugees on the pretext that it is a Presidential Order that has been incorporated in the Constitution without Parliament's approval and violates the rights of the citizens outside Jammu and Kashmir.

"I want to assure you (and) I am not talking about Article 35A alone, whatever our government does, we will not do anything against the sentiments of Kashmiris," Singh had said.

The announcement is music to PDP's ears, especially to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the Article.

''The positivity exhibited by the home minister would go a long way in putting balms on the wounds of the people of the state,'' Mehbooba said in a statement.

A majority of people in Jammu and Kashmir believe that the RSS wants abrogation of the Article 35A to change the demography of the only Muslim majority state in India.

On the third day of his visit to the state, the home minister said he would continue to visit the state to take stock of the situation. '' This is my fifth visit this year. I will continue to visit till the situation improves even if it takes 55 visits. I don't claim that the problem is over, but it has certainly improved.''

This is for the first time the Centre's seems to saying the right things about Kashmir, much of it is largely due to the improved security situation.

Since January, 140 militants, including four of the 11 wanted commanders, have been killed in Kashmir, mostly in south Kashmir's Pulwama, Kulgam, Shopian and Anantnag.

Relentless operations by security forces have forced many militants to go into hiding and shun cell phones for fear of being tracked. Many stone pelters have also been taken into custody.

The NIA crackdown against the separatists, allegedly for receiving hawala funds to fuel unrest, has forced the large separatist constituency on the defensive. That has also contributed in calming down the tempers.

It is against this backdrop that the home minister sought to allay the fears that his assertion that the Centre would find a ''permanent solution'' to Kashmir was not linked to the abolition of the Article 35 A.

''A lot has made of what we said the government would find a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem,'' he said. ''The permanent solution is based on five Cs—compassion, communication, co- existence, confidence building and consistency.''

Improvement in the security situation also is seen as a reason for appeal by the home minister, for the first time, to the people outside to visit Kashmir. ''I appeal to the people to visit Kashmir. The people of Kashmir are waiting to welcome you. There is no problem.''

Despite the positive statements, Singh sounded ambiguous on inviting separatists for talks ''There is no question of a formal or informal invitation. Those who want to talk should come forward," he said. "I always come here with an open mind."

The Congress visit

The policy and planning group of the Congress on Jammu and Kashmir, headed by former prime minister Manmohan Singh also held discussions on the situation of the state for two days on September 10 and 11. The former PM was accompanied by Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni, P Chidambaram. J&K PPCC president G.A. Mir, former MP Tariq Hameed Karra and former J&K minister Nawang Rigzin Jora.

The Congress delegation held a meeting with the state legislators of the party and discussed in detail the security and political situation of the state, Congress spokesman Ravinder Sharma said.

The group was scheduled to visit the state in April but due to worsened security situation, the visit was postponed. '' We had detailed discussion with various delegations from all walks of life in Jammu,'' said Mir.

According to sources, there were talks on possible strategies to counter the saffron party in the state.

The Congress and the opposition, especially the NC, have closed ranks against the BJP-PDP alliance in the state. The two parties are likely to contest the next elections jointly.

Sources said the NC and CPI(M) leaders told the Congress leaders that they were in favour of the Article 35 A.

"The Congress panel had come talk about the solution to the prevailing situation in the state,'' said regional secretary of CPI(M), Sham Prasad Kaiser. ''We suggested dialogue on internal and external fronts to resolve the Kashmir issue instead of using military power.''

The Jammu Bar Association, led by its president B.S. Slathia, submitted a five-page memorandum to the Congress group demanding, among other things, abrogation of the Article 35A.

"Article 35A is against the very spirit of the Indian Constitution and the preamble of J-K Constitution of 1957. It deprives all the Indians living outside the state of their right to exercise any right in the state, thus creating a situation in which they are considered a persona non grata in Jammu and Kashmir," the memorandum said.

The Congress panel would visit Kashmir on September 16 and 17 and the Ladakh region on a later date. ''The dates for the visit to Ladakh will be announced later,'' said Mir,

Sources said the Congress wanted to know the opinion of people on important matters like the Article 35 A to form a policy on the issue in view of the petitions challenging the Article in the Supreme Court.

The dominant view in the Congress is that the Article, which was incorporated in the Constitution as result of 1952 Delhi agreement between Jawahar Lal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah should stay. Some of its leaders like Chidambaram will also appear as counsel for the Karra who has decided to defend the Article as a private member.

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