Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yashwant Sinha on Tuesday created ripples as he led a five-member delegation of civil society members to meet separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in a bid to break the three-month impasse in Kashmir triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani.
The BJP, however, distanced itself from the initiative as did the central government, saying it was done at a personal level.
“It is not a BJP delegation. BJP has nothing to do with this,” BJP’s National Secretary Shrikant Sharma said in Delhi.
A top Home Ministry official said the delegation was touring the Kashmir Valley on its own wisdom and the Central government has nothing to do with it.
The delegation led by the former Minister for External Affairs and Finance met Geelani, leader of hardline Hurriyat Conference, at his residence in Hyderpora area of Srinagar.
The delegation also met Mirwaiz Farooq, the chief of another faction of Hurriyat Conference.
Talking to media persons after these meetings, Sinha said, “I only want to say that we had come for talks and the talks happened in a good manner.”
The other members of the delegation were Wajahat Habibullah, former bureaucrat of J&K government and ex-chairman of National Commission for Minorities, Kapil Kak, former Air Vice-Marshal, journalist Bharat Bhushan and Sushoba Barve of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation.
Habibullah said the meeting took place in a very good atmosphere.
“Very nice and friendly discussion. This is not track-2 diplomacy because we are not representing anybody. We are here on our own initiative. We are not representing anybody or any government,” the former bureaucrat said.
“We had not come with an agenda. We came with sympathetic relation as Indians here because we saw there is pain in a part of India,” he said.
Habibullah expressed hope that the current impasse in Kashmir will end. “We always hope. World lives on hope,” he said.
A spokesman of the Geelani-led Hurriyat said the 87-year-old separatist leader apprised the delegation about the historical perspective of the Kashmir issue.
Geelani said all the political prisoners, who are languishing in jails for years, should be released so that they can hold consultations for a joint strategy that can pave way for resolution of the Kashmir issue.
“Geelani told them that it was India which took the matter to the United Nations in 1947. People have rendered great and unparalleled sacrifices for a just resolution of Kashmir issue,” the spokesman said.
He said on the current unrest in the valley, Geelani told the delegation that 94 persons have been killed and 15,000 others have been injured, while an equal number have been arrested in the past 107 days.
After meeting the delegation, Mirwaiz said the separatists were not against dialogue but wanted the issue to be resolved through meaningful tripartite talks involving India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir.
“Let me make it absolutely clear, as far as Hurriyat is concerned, whether (Syed Ali Shah) Geelani, (Yasin) Malik or me, nobody has ever been opposed to any engagement or dialogue. But the problem is dialogue for what?
“Our main focus is resolution of Jammu and Kashmir, acknowledgment of the fact that Kashmir is a dispute, acknowledgment of the fact that India, Pakistan and Kashmir have to work together for resolution of Kashmir issue, the fact that right to self-determination for the people of J-K is non-negotiable,” Mirwaiz told reporters.
He said the delegation members told him that they have no mandate from any government and had come here in their personal capacity and represent the civil society.
“Sinha said even though he is a member of BJP, he has not been active recently and that he came here to understand the situation.
“I think he also accepted that the issue of Kashmir needs to be understood in its real perspective and addressed. Our biggest issue is that the government of India wants to change the perspective or dilute it by terming it as a law and order problem or security issue or by talking about incentives,” he said.
The moderate Hurriyat chairman said he told the delegation that Kashmir is a political issue and till this political issue and dispute is addressed in its historical context, no peace and no incentives will work here.
“I told them that whenever situation like this arises in Kashmir, delegations come here but when the situation comparatively improves, the government thinks that it can militarily and forcefully control the situation. Then no one comes forward and no one talks about dialogue,” he said.
The Mirwaiz said he told the five-member delegation that they have to show courage and tell the people of India the reality and what the people of Kashmir want.
“…as they are here for a couple of days and will meet many other people, I am hopeful they will understand the real situation here and try to tell the truth to the people of India at least even if the government is not ready to listen,” he said.
Before the meetings, Sinha said, “We are a few people of goodwill who have come here on the basis of humanity. The aim is to share the pain and sufferings of the people. If we can do that, we will consider ourselves as fortunate.”
To a question about timing of the visit, Sinha said, “That is an eternal question why did you not do it before. We are doing it at a time which is quite appropriate.”
Asked if they had been invited by the separatists, Sinha said, “We do not have an invitation (from Geelani). We had requested (for a meeting) and we are going to see him.”
Geelani, Mirwaiz and JKLF chief Yasin Malik have been jointly issuing weekly protest programmes ever since the nrest started in the Valley.