Srinagar, Oct. 11: Fresh from the stunning performance at the hustings, Mehbooba Mufti today said the top priority of the new government in Jammu and Kashmir would be to persuade the Prime Minister to make good his promise on initiating talks with Kashmiri separatists.
The role of the state administration will be that of facilitator in these discussions, added Mehbooba, the leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is trying to form a coalition government in the state with the Congress.
Mehbooba said though her party had never questioned the instrument of accession — which led to Kashmir joining India — it was the duty of her party to reflect the people’s aspirations for azaadi.
The balancing act reflects the challenges that would accompany a coalition with the Congress, which has an unequivocal nationalist view on Kashmir.
But Mehbooba said the two parties have no differences on what needs to be done to win the confidence of the people who voted them in.
“We want talks with the separatists, more accountability of police and security forces, respect for human values and human rights, scrapping of Pota, freeing prisoners languishing for years in jail and bringing in a clean and efficient administration,” she said.
Her comments came as her party and the Congress jockeyed for the chief minister’s post and tried to outwit each other by courting Independents.
In contrast with the tightrope walk on azaadi, Mehbooba was explicit in dismissing as a “slogan” the demand for a UN-sponsored plebiscite — a refrain of the Hurriyat Conference as well as Pakistan.
Mehbooba said plebiscite was now “an obsolete idea which everyone knows is not practical. It is nothing more than a slogan”. But she added that a final solution to Kashmir would have to involve talks between India and Pakistan.
Mehbooba was guarded in her response to a question whether the solution has to be found within the Constitution of India. The Congress is categorical on this and Mehbooba did not want to be drawn into a lengthy discussion on this.
She said the PDP was “more interested in the the path which led to the solution, rather than in what the end to the dispute would entail”. Delhi and the separatists should settle that.
Mehbooba added that the “Indian Constitution is not a holy cow and can be amended to accommodate the wishes of the people of Kashmir”. The comment is a signal that she is not averse to a solution within the Constitution, if it comes with a devolution or autonomy package.
She also spoke of disbanding the Special Operations Group, described by the government as a “crack team” of the police, but detested across the Valley. Mufti said this force, made of personnel handpicked from various police wings, could go back to their parent organisations and learn restraint and discipline.
Mehbooba said she would like to see a reduction of the large security personnel presence in the state, but this could take some time as the situation has to improve.
The state government will also try to persuade both the militants and the Centre to stop shooting at each other. “My idea is to ask for a cessation of hostilities. After all, it has happened before and, if we can stop the violence, the people will heave a sigh of relief,” she said.