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Atal to keep Kashmir date

New Delhi, March 17: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is expected to visit Kashmir next month to keep his promise made to the people of the state during his post-Kaluchak visit. Chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has also been urging Vajpayee to come to the state.

Though the exact date for the trip has not been finalised, it is likely to be around April 18. Vajpayee is one of the few political leaders in the country that Kashmiris trust. The Prime Minister was scheduled to go to Kashmir before the elections but the assassination of Abdul Gani Lone and the refusal of the Hurriyat and other separatist groups to participate in the election process led to the scrapping of Vajpayee’s visit.

Now with the state government well entrenched in Kashmir and people’s expectations of better governance, the Prime Minister’s advisers believe it would be a good time for him to be in the state.

The ostensible reason would be to inaugurate a railway station in Jammu. The Centre is putting a lot of emphasis on development projects in the state and hopes this would help to create jobs for the growing number of unemployed in Kashmir.

The Centre has been promising a railway line to the state for several decades now. Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv, as well as H.D. Deve Gowda have laid foundation stones for railway tracks at three different sites. Railway ministry sources claim that a time-table to complete the railway project by 2007 has been fixed.

“We will certainly deliver,” government officials say. Railway minister Nitish Kumar had visited the Valley last month and handed over cheques to people from whom the railways had taken land.

The Centre has also named former home secretary N.N. Vohra as its emissary to begin talks with state government representatives, separatists and all sections of people willing to talk about finding a way out of the Kashmir imbroglio.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani said on Sunday that Vohra can begin talks with Hurriyat leaders.

The Centre has always maintained it is ready to talk to all sections in Kashmir, including those who did not take part in last year’s elections.

Vohra has already visited Kashmir but the Hurriyat leaders have not yet made up their mind whether to talk with him. Earlier, when the Prime Minister had sent K.C. Pant to Srinagar, the Hurriyat leaders had refused to meet him.

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