The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mufti yet to heal, but touch holds sway

Jammu, Nov. 2: The man with the healing touch is yet to deliver on all his promises, but after a year in power, the coalition he heads still seems the best bet.

The reason, to some Kashmiris at least, is obvious: because the alternative could be instability.

One year after he assumed the reins of the first-ever multiparty government in Jammu and Kashmir, chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed still inspires optimism among those he rules. This is despite the roving band of trigger-happy militants who have been striking at will.

Analysts say Mufti’s policy of reaching out to the man on the street has done the trick, though his critics feel he has been selective with his healing touch. But on the brighter side, the mood of peace and talks has come to dominate, with all political parties, for the first time, toeing the government’s line of unconditional dialogue with separatists and the need for resumption of talks between India and Pakistan.

“These are the basic imperatives for improving the situation in Jammu and Kashmir,” Mufti said. He also feels the situation can improve only when there is an all-round push for peace.

Mufti said the Prime Minister has given new meaning to the peace process by extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan from Kashmiri soil and then appointing .. Vohra as interlocutor and now deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to lead the talks with the Hurriyat Conference. He counts all these as “achievements” of the regime.

But if these are some of the bright spots, the dark ones do cast their shadow. There has been no let-up in the violence and many see the terror strikes on Kashmiri Pundits, Hindus in Jammu and security forces as a fallout of the state government’s pro-militant policies.

“Mufti’s government has promoted terrorism and we know that it is as per design,” BJP state unit chief Nirmal Singh said.

The National Conference, which was voted out of power in the last elections, holds a similar view. “We know that the government has failed on all fronts. Militancy has risen and even the most protected areas, like the chief minister’s residence, have come under attack. The common man is feeling scared,” said its chief Omar Abdullah.

Jammu nurses its own anger against the Mufti regime. It had hoped for a brighter future under the coalition government in which the Congress is a partner and expected, for the first time, Jammu-friendly policies. “(But) All our hopes have crashed. Jammu is being neglected in worse fashion than it was ever before,” said Harjinder Singh Anand, the president of the Hotels Association of Jammu.

The industrial capital of the state feels stifled. Funds, it feels, are flowing into Kashmir while it is getting only a trickle. “We are nowhere. There are no hopes,” said Shree Kumar, the chairman of the Jammu State Morcha that is working for a separate statehood for Jammu. “These Kashmiri rulers are always against Jammu and Mufti has shown it rather too blatantly,” he added.

Another area where the coalition has failed to make headway is employment generation. The People’s Democratic Party’s manifesto and the coalition’s common minimum programme promised jobs to unemployed youth, but resource crunch has come in the way. The schemes of forming self-help groups and generation of employment avenues through entrepreneurship have failed to appease the people.

Surrender call

The chief minister has asked the militants to come home in a dignified manner and lead a normal life. “Gun-wielding youths should realise taking arms was purposeless and without any objective and they can come back home in a dignified manner and lead a normal life with their kith and kin,” Mufti said in Pulwama on Sunday. Without divulging details, he said a rehabilitation programme is being formulated for them. However, officials said the government plans to deposit Rs 3 lakh in fixed deposit and allot a monthly allowance of Rs 3,000 to each militant giving up arms.

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