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Political space for mainstream parties has shrunk in Kashmir: Omar


New Delhi, Nov 3: Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah has said people in the Valley are losing their appetite for the mainstream parties whose political space has “shrunk” due to the worsening of the situation in the state.

Speaking at a book-launch event here last night, Omar said Jammu and Kashmir needed more than just the words repeated from the ramparts of the Red Fort, in an apparent reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Mainstream political space in the Valley has shrunk, but that is something that ebbs and flows. It’s not constant. The space between separatists and mainstream comes and goes,” he said.

“The mood on the streets is very raw.. It is as if the govt is unwilling and unable to accept that the state needs more than just the words from the ramparts of the Red Fort,” Omar said.

He said people of the Valley had seen a “glimmer of hope” last year when the Prime Minister on the Independence Day talked about the need to embrace the people of Kashmir rather than use abuse and bullets.

“There was actually a glimmer of hope that finally the realisation has dawned, that a hard line policy of seeing Kashmir purely through the prism of security problem is not going to work. But from that August 15 to the next August 15 nothing changed. The same words were repeated this year,” he said.

Omar said the situation in the Valley was becoming worse with militancy re-emerging in areas that were earlier free from it.

He was in conversation with Centre’s former interlocutor to Jammu and Kashmir Radha Kumar whose book ‘Paradise At War’ – a political history of Kashmir published by Aleph Book Company was launched here.

“I don’t think in recent years more damage has been done to the idea of mainstream polity than when (former Chief Minister) Mufti Sayeed was publically humiliated at a really in Srinagar,” Omar said.

He was referring to a 2015 rally in Srinagar where Modi snubbed Mufti when he offered some advice to the Prime Minister on starting a dialogue with Pakistan.

“Mufti Sayeed had not said anything which was objectionable or anti-national, but the response he got was no body can teach me about Kashmir. I don’t need anyone’s advice. I know what exactly has to be done. I have been an RSS karikarta (worker) and have made more trips to Kashmir than any of you have done. And please don’t teach me what to do. I know exactly what to do.

“All this has an impact. You want mainstream politicians to have space. How about respecting them first? Space will come automatically,” the National Conference leader said.

Omar said there can be no mainstream if autonomy was linked to cessation as both the main regional parties (NC and PDP) in the Valley talk about one or the other element of autonomy.

“If both are cessationist, then there is no mainstream,” he said.

“If we can talk about autonomy of Sri Lankan Tamils, the Tibet as an autonomous region in China, why do we shy away from talking about the autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir? We are not asking for it. It was granted to us,” Omar said.

He also said although Pakistan was a part of the problem, what is stopping the government from engaging with people of Kashmir.

“The fact that highest number of youth are willing to join militant ranks is not down to Pakistan. Although Pakistan is fishing in the troubled waters, the sentiment you see on the ground cannot be linked to Pakistan.

“Pakistan cannot be blamed for it…You can say Pakistan is part of the problem, but what is stopping you from engaging with the people of the state,” he asked.

Omar also said he “truly believes” that the future of Jammu and Kashmir lies with the Union of India and that the state could not survive on its own if given independence.

“I truly believe that the future of Jammu and Kashmir lies within the Indian Union…

“I don’t believe that an independent Jammu and Kashmir can survive in this environment of Pakistan on one side, China on the other and then India here (on one side). Mine is a practical realisation. It is based on analysing and understanding the realities of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Omar said the Centre had appointed interlocutors and the report they came up with should have been discussed in Parliament, but was never acted upon.

Kumar in her remarks said people in the Valley “detested” the Indian State, to which Omar said “I find it difficult to disagree with”.

“I have never seen a government in my life which is so impervious to the concerns of Kashmiris,” Kumar said.

“It feels that you deliberately want to drive this place away or you are callous to the point that you don’t care…We won’t find any Kashmiri willing to make peace in the next five years and I am being optimistic,” she said.