September 2016 News

'No Point Going To Meet Apple Growers'

3 September 2016
Barkha Dutt

Srinagar: 'No point going all the way to Kashmir just to meet apple growers.' This acerbic comment from an opposition leader to Home Minister Rajnath Singh exposed the fault lines within the all-party delegation ahead of its two-day visit to the troubled state which begins today. At an argumentative preparatory meeting in Delhi, the government and opposition leaders brainstormed and often disagreed over the best approach in bringing a healing touch to a wounded Valley. The key debate was on whether the delegates should meet with separatists and secessionists - those who demand 'Azaadi' from the Indian union, represented by the Hurriyat Conference. At least four senior leaders, Sitaram Yechury of the CPM, D Raja of the CPI, Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, batted in favour of inviting the Hurriyat for talks. When told that the Hurriyat had already taken a cussed position of no dialogue in the present circumstances, these leaders argued that the onus was still on the political establishment to extend a hand. 'If they say no after we send letters of invite, so be it; then the onus is on them, but let us at least send the letters,' Mr Yechury and Mr Owaisi are reported to have told Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at the meeting. Mr Paswan, who was a member of an all-party delegation that visited Kashmir during the unrest of 2010, recalled how he had met with separatists in the Valley during that trip and said, 'Those meetings had a healing touch, we should try them again'. Rajnath Singh said it had been left to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to determine who the delegation would meet. By the end of the day, Ms Mufti had sent a letter to three Hurriyat Conference leaders - Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, offering talks 'at a place and time of your convenience'. At the Delhi meeting, several opposition leaders proposed a visit to different hospitals in Srinagar to meet those injured by the use of controversial pellet guns and also injured security personnel. Many Kashmiris have been partially or permanently blinded because of the use of pellet guns to control crowds. The Home Minister is said to have explained that a visit to the hospitals in the current environment was 'too volatile'. He said even he had been advised by security agencies against hospital visits on his two trips to the Valley because there were apprehensions of agitations and demonstrations even inside the hospitals. He said the police would not like to lathicharge to contain crowds in such a situation. The opposition leaders have insisted that they be allowed to go to hospitals saying it is 'the right of people to protest'. For the first time, the government shared with the opposition its formal security assessment of the ground situation on the 57th day of the turmoil in Kashmir Valley. A background note on the government's assessment of the top ten challenges in Kashmir was shared with all the parties. Interestingly, topping the list of what the government considers its biggest difficulties in the state is 'social media and false rumours,' an acknowledgement of a new phase in militancy where young, educated locals like Hizbul Mujahideen's Burhan Wani - killed by security forces in July - have picked up the gun, but have also used social media as their weapon of war, releasing videos on YouTube and other internet platforms regularly. The government has also flagged its concern over 'armed militants addressing rallies' - an alarming phenomenon not seen since the early 1990s. The government argues that an increased religious radicalism has thrown up new problems in countering the agitation and protests. NDTV has exclusively accessed the note that lists the top ten hurdles in the Kashmir Valley as identified by the government. These are: 1. The use of social media for false rumours to instigate youth to lead and mobilise violent mobs 2. Stone pelting on security forces by radicalised and incited youth 3. Armed militants are also mixed with stone-pelting mobs and are addressing rallies 4. Militants using cover of such agitating mobs have been firing at security forces and lobbing grenades, provoking security forces to retaliate 5. Attacks-threats on government officers, political representatives and families of policemen 6. No identifiable leadership of protests 7. Infiltration attempts from Pakistan continue 8. Common people are facing hardships because of continuous hartal calls and forced bandhs 9. Several peaceful protests with anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans 10. Challenge of radicalization The all-party delegation arrives in Srinagar today. On Monday, it will head out to Jammu to meet with civil society members. Several opposition leaders have urged the government to make sure the visit is not a 'wasted opportunity.'