Srinagar: Home Minister Rajnath Singh, on Monday said, the government at the Centre will not go against the sentiments of people of Jammu and Kashmir.
“We’ll not go against sentiments of people,” he said when asked about the Centre’s view of the question of abrogating Article 35A of the Constitution.
Taking a dig at the separatists and various opposition parties who have pledged to fight it tooth and nail and even threatened to launch an agitation if any attempt to repeal or tamper with Article 35 is made, the Home Minister said, “There are no issues left that is why such issues are being raised”.
Article 35A empowers the Jammu and Kashmir Legislature to define “permanent residents” of the State and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents. A petition seeking removal of Article 35A is currently pending before a bench of the Supreme Court.
An NGO, ‘We the Citizens’, believed to be an RSS think-tank, challenged 35A in the SC in 2014 on grounds that it was not added to the Constitution through amendment under Article 368 and that it was never presented before Parliament, and came into effect immediately.
In another case filed in the SC in July, two Kashmiri women argued that the State's laws, flowing from Article 35A, had disenfranchised their children.
The Home Minister who is on a 4-day visit of Jammu and Kashmir while addressing a press conference in Srinagar said that the government wants to see smiles on the faces of Kashmiri people who have suffered enormously as a result of violence and terrorism during last nearly three decades.
He was, however, happy to see the situation improving in Jammu and Kashmir and promised all the efforts required towards restoring peace and a complete normalcy in the State.
Singh said, “The situation is improving in the Kashmir Valley. It is much better when compared to the situation of last year. We wish to see smiles on the face of the people.”
He added that the trees of peace in Kashmir have not dried out completely and that he could see the green shoots of peace in the Valley. He asked Pakistan to stop infiltrating militants and terrorists into the State.
He reiterated that he and the government at the Centre wish to resolve problems confronting the State and its people and sought help from all right thinking people in the endeavour.
He said that he once again wants to convey to all the stakeholders that he is always open to discussion with anyone on the issues as he earnestly wants amicable solution to the Kashmir imbroglio.
“I have said it before and I want to repeat it that I am willing to talk with open heart and mind to anyone who is willing to help us in resolving problems of Kashmir,” he said.
He said that he met a number of delegations representing various political, social and trade organisations besides civil society groups during his stay in Srinagar.
Acknowledging the hardships of the people associated with the Valley’s tourist trade due to poor inflow of the visitors, he made an appeal to the people of the country to visit Kashmir.
“Terrorism has adversely affected the tourism sector. I appeal everyone to come to Kashmir,” he said. He said that the Centre will run a special drive for Kashmir to promote tourism.
He said the worst affected groups in Kashmir are the youth, the traders, workers and the poor. “Terrorism has destroyed generations of Kashmir. We will not allow another generation of Kashmir to go waste”, he said.
He added a new mantra of 5 Cs to reach out to the Kashmiri people. These, he said, are “compassion, communication, coexistence, confidence and consistency.” He said that the outreach to the people of Kashmir would be based on the basis of these five Cs so that permanent solution of the Kashmir issue is found.
He said that he would continue to meet every stakeholder in Jammu and Kashmir in the Centre’s effort to find lasting solutions to the issues confronting the State.
“Not just five times, if there is a need to visit Kashmir fifty times in a year, I shall come. Whatever efforts need to be made for bringing peace and prosperity I will do”, he said.
Asked if he was willing to talk to the separatists as well, he said, “I would like to talk to all the stakeholders. I have always said this. When I come here I come with open heart and mind and do not keep any reservations in mind.”
Replying to another question, he said that minors detained by the police in the Valley should be sent to juvenile homes and not jails. “The youngsters below 18 detained by police should not be treated as criminals but as juveniles. They should be sent to juvenile homes and not jails,” he said.
During his stay in Kashmir, the Home Minister also reviewed the law and order situation in the Valley with the government functionaries and top commanders and officers of various security forces. He also held one-on-one meetings with Governor NN Vohra and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
While Singh was in the Valley, three encounters between militants and security forces took place in the south and north of the Valley, leaving five militants including a district commander of Hizbul-Mujahideen dead whereas one militant surrendered and another was arrested. The militants killed one policeman and injured another in a sneak attack in southern Anantnag town.
The officials said that during the Home Minister's visit the Pakistani troops have violated the November 2003 ceasefire agreement by opening fire towards the Indian forward positions and civilian areas twice, so far, along the Line of Control in Poonch district. At least, one civilian was injured.
The Home Minister will in the second leg of his tour visit the Jammu region of the State for two days from Monday afternoon. He tweeted, “After spending 2 days in Kashmir Valley I shall be heading to the Jammu region today. Shall visit the forward areas on Indo-Pakistan border”.