The government has ruled out talks with separatists in Kashmir and insists that the problem of violence is limited to just five districts of south Kashmir while the rest of the state is “in peace”. The government is ready for talks on “development” with all other stakeholders, says Union Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, who questioned the demand for a Ramzan ceasefire. In an interview with IANS, the Information and Broadcasting Minister said the state and central governments were making “best efforts to deal with the situation” in the Kashmir Valley which has been on the boil since the April 9 Srinagar Lok Sabha polls when eight civilian protesters were killed in firing by security forces guarding voting stations.
“We are determined to solve the problem” in Kashmir that “we inherited from previous Congress governments”, said the former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief. He rejected allegations that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-BJP coalition government led by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had failed to bring normalcy and contain surging violence in the state since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8 last year.
The militant leader’s death triggered a deadly wave of street violence that left 100 people dead in about five months of unrest last year. The year 2017 also began on a stormy note in the Valley with intermittent bouts of stone-pelting protests. However, Naidu told IANS that the situation in the Kashmir Valley was still “better as compared with earlier UPA governments”. “Kashmir, which is not our creation, is a 69-year-old problem. Where is the question of failing? It is all legacy of great Congress leaders.”
He said the trouble in the state was not as widespread as it was made out to be in the media. “Other than five districts, remaining parts of the state are free from violence. Let us understand this. Except for south Kashmir, the state is in peace. In north Kashmir there is no major problem. In Jammu region, there is no major problem. In Ladakh region, there is no problem. “Kashmir is not four south Kashmir districts. There is a problem. We have to (solve it). But at the same time, we have to send a message across the border that we will not accept terrorism.”
Asked about a possibility of a ceasefire during the current month of Ramzan that culminates in Eid celebration, the Minister said it was for the Home Minister to look into the demand. But he questioned the very demand itself. “Ceasefire by whom? Won’t there be any stone-pelting? There will not be any terrorist activity? Will somebody give us an assurance? Suppose people were observing Ramzan and then there is some attack, who has to be responsible.”
Asked about talks with separatist groups in the valley, Naidu said all previous efforts of dialogue to solve the Kashmir issue have failed. “How many years have we been talking? It has become a fashion for some people to make such demands and then be in news. Otherwise what is there in talks? Anybody who swears loyalty to India’s integrity. Yes, we should talk to them irrespective of which party they represent.”
Asked if he was clearly ruling out talks with the separatist amalgam Hurriyat Conference, the Minister said: “All I am saying is there is no question of disintegration of Kashmir. There is no question on the integrity of the country. “There are issues of development, lack of development in a particular region. There is no question of giving one inch of land to anybody. Development, we can talk with all. Why are we mentioning separatist? We are willing to talk with all Kashmiri people who are part of India.”
About the differences in the coalition government with the PDP led by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti demanding talks with Hurriyat leaders, Naidu said it was because “we are different parties”. “It is the PDP which is saying that. Not the government. It may be their view, not our view. The point is, first restore normalcy. Allow the public life to move on.” He said the PDP-BJP have a “political understanding (and) are making an effort to see that we work through the elected government”.