Srinagar Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said on Wednesday that neither he nor his council of ministers were acting as puppets of the Centre."We are not puppets. We take decisions for our people and for their benefit," Omar said winding up the debate in the state Assemblyon the prevailing law and order situation in Kashmir.
The chief minister was reacting to the charge brought by Opposition members, including PDP President Mehbooba Mufti, who on September 30 had said the Centre was running the affairs of the state.
"I have a grievance. There have been some instances where people have talked more than needed. The Union Home Secretary (G K Pillai) should not have spoken about curfew (on July 9)," he said. Pillai in an interview to state-run Doordarshan on the eve of 'Shab-e-Mehraj' had announced that curfew would be lifted.Omar said by making such statements, they were undermining the institutions of the state and it would be better if they do not do so through media.
The chief minister said the Centre consulted him on the eight-point package for Jammu and Kashmir except on the point that talked about opening schools.
"It is wrong to say the schools were closed for three months and opened only after the package was announced. The schools were functioning in rural areas and closed only in urban areas and we had decided to open these schools even before the Centre announced the package," he said.Omar said he has received full support from the Centre over the last four months and expressed hope this would continue in future also.
"But more than anything else, we need the people's cooperation the most in improving the situation as without it, support from other quarters will be useless," he said.
Asserting that Kashmir was an outstanding issue requiring a political solution, Omar Abdullah said a dialogue process to address the external and internal dimensions needs to be started to resolve the matter.
"It (Kashmir) is an outstanding issue which needs to be resolved. It is a political issue and cannot be addressed through development, employment or good governance only," Omar said winding up the two-day debate in the state Assembly on the prevailing law and order situation in Kashmir.Maintaining that separatists alone did not hold key to the resolution of the issue, he, however, said talks have to be initiated with them also.
"It is an issue between India and Pakistan in which Jammu and Kashmir is getting smashed in between. An external dialogue process has also to be started," he said.
The chief minister said nobody has been claiming that the talks should be focused on Kashmir only. "People from Jammu, Ladakh and Kargil, besides the Valley have to be involved in the settlement process and a solution acceptable to them and our neighbours (Pakistan) has to be found."
Apparently referring to the BJP's stand that there was no dispute to be resolved with regard to Jammu and Kashmir, Omar said if that would have been the case, there would have been no need for the Shimla agreement, the Lahore declaration and talks in Agra and Delhi."It is clearly mentioned in the Shimla agreement that India and Pakistan will resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir through bilateral talks," he added.
The chief minister also sought to counter the Opposition charges that the ongoing unrest was due to the governance problems."Development, employment, road, health care, electricity and water are not going to resolve this issue. It will still be there," he said.
"If I am a useless chief minister then every part of the state should be on fire and protesting. Effigies of me and my colleagues should have been burnt in Jammu and Ladakh," he added.Reacting to calls for his resignation, he said if his stepping down would resolve the Kashmir issue, he and his council of ministers will not stay in power for a minute.
"The Kashmir issue is bigger than the government and even bigger than this Assembly. We can only facilitate," he said.Omar said by raising the bandwagon of Jammu and Kashmir being an integral part of the country, some people were raising doubts about it."Why do you have to shout at the top of your voice when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir? Why don't you do the same with Tamil Nadu and other states?" he asked.
The chief minister said Jammu and Kashmir acceded to the Union under an agreement for which a special provision was made in the Constitution of the country. "It was Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel who moved the resolution for special status and it was seconded by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee," he said.
"Now if you are opposing dialogue even within the Constitution, where do we go? What do we tell those who are seeking settlement of the issue outside the Constitution," he said. The chief minister said one heard slogans like "quit Kashmir" and "go India go" on the streets today.
"… but those giving these slogans have to realise who has left Kashmir. More Army and paramilitary forces have come due to the situation over the past three months and the only people to leave are doctors, engineers, students and businessmen," he said.Omar said his government has quietly persuaded the Centre to reduce 35,000 troops from the state when the atmosphere was conducive for it.
Seeking to downsize the political influence of opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the chief minister said they are not powerful enough to create this situation.
"They took advantage of the situation ignited by someone else. The vehicle was started by someone and they (PDP) went for a ride but they don't have the control over the steering or the brakes," he said.Blaming the hardline faction of Hurriyat Conference headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, he said they were fuelling the situation by issuing protest calendars.
"Our effort is to improve the situation step by step but till these calendars are there, the danger will remain. It should stop now," he said.
The chief minister said an unfortunate impression has been created among the people here that the Kashmir issue is forgotten during peace times and the talk about resolution starts when things begin to go wrong.
"For God's sake, don't let it happen this time. 110 sacrifices and injuries to brave policemen and Army jawans have brought the issue to the front burner... let's keep it there till the day we find an acceptable solution to the issue," he said.'Revoke AFSPA where it is not needed'
Omar Abdullah said that seeking the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was not the same as opposing the armed forces.He said his government wanted to withdraw the applicability of the Act from areas where it was not needed.
"We are not talking about revocation of the AFSPA in one go. We want to revoke it only from places where there is no presence of militancy and the Army is not required for maintaining peace," Omar said in the state Assembly.He said while there was no hurry to revoke the AFSPA, there should be no objection to its removal as it is a well thought out confidence building measure for the people.
"This will send a signal that we trust the people so much that they will cooperate with us in maintaining peace," he said.The chief minister said AFSPA has been revoked from greater Imphal region in Manipur and the experiment so far is successful.
Omar said being against AFSPA should not be seen as being against the Army. "Some people say if you are against one, then you are against the other as well," he added.Centre must expedite appointment of interlocutors Omar Abdullah said the Centre should expedite appointment of interlocutors for initiating dialogue process to resolve the Kashmir issue.
"My opinion has been sought on the appointment of interlocutors and I think it should be done so that they start the work on initiating a political dialogue," he told the state Assembly.The Chief Minister said, "if a political dialogue is started, I feel a lot will be gained from it."
Omar said the interlocutors should not be officers or retired bureaucrats but three to four people who know Kashmir issue and they should come with an open mind."The interlocutors should not come with presupposition and prejudiced mind. They should come with an open mind and try to bridge the gap," he added.