Kashmir’s association with New Delhi is a relationship of crisis, admits Naeem Akhter, Minister of Education and Cabinet Spokesman of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
In a candid interview, Akhter said that the (estranged) relationship has impacted Kashmir adversely besides holding the entire region hostage. “The main priorities of this alliance (BJP-PDP) has been to link Srinagar with Delhi. It also entails connecting Kashmir with the Jammu province,” he added.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) formed the government in J&K with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in February 2015 after last year’s landmark assembly elections.
Speculation has been rife that the government may collapse by the weight of its own contradictions. Putting to rest all speculations that the coalition was under pressure, the minister noted, “PDP has no clash with the BJP. This government will last its full term. If people want to manufacture issues of discord they are free to do so. There are surely several grey areas on which there has been an ongoing discourse. On contentious issues like Article 370 there is no change or retraction. We have clearly decided that in our agenda of governance. Stray remarks should not be mistaken as the officially stated positions.”
Talking about the proposal for building composite townships for Kashmiri Pandits (KPs), Akhtar who served as Principal Secretary of the politically sensitive state between 2002 and 2005, said that Pandits must come back to Kashmir for the greater good of all. “Their migration has been a blot on the state. It is a perception – whether right or wrong – and I don’t want to die with this blot on my hands. Yes an alternate discourse was started that KPs may have their own sanctuaries. We are of a position that KPs must come and live in shared spaces, together with their Muslim neighbours,” he noted.
Another thorny issue with the government has been a continuation of the previous government’s policy of putting restrictions on the movement of separatist leaders. “We are not very comfortable with placing curbs on the movement of Hurriyat. Sadly the separatists don’t realise that in any civilised debate there are certain limits. India is a country of more than a billion people where a number of powerful opinions are at play.
“Display of flags (of neighbouring country) in Srinagar acts as a red rag. We are trying hard to build consensus and an atmosphere of peace. Tell me in today’s world of media exploitation, is that (flag waving) what the doctor has prescribed? Let me reiterate – we still have an open mind about ‘battle of ideas’. Let them not make it a ‘battle of flags.'”