‘Unsettled’ Mehbooba Walks Out Of Rajnath’s Press Conference

Srinagar: Even as restive Kashmir continues to be on the edge for the running 48th day Thursday, Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh’s press conference here turned into high voltage drama, when Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti lost her cool and aborted his candid interaction with media at her Fairview villa.

In Kashmir for a fresh outreach, second time within a month, Rajnath was deliberating upon New Delhi’s seriousness to restore peace and prosperity in the Valley, when Mehbooba got up from her chair, declaring the termination of the presser and asking the journalists to “have tea” before leaving the venue, the lawns of her palatial residence in the foothills of picturesque Zaberwan Hills.

Mehbooba was infuriated when a journalist raised what many allege is disproportionate use of force on protesters and accused her of swapping roles and views with her predecessor Omar Abdullah on the protests.

The journalist said as an opposition leader Mehbooba had criticized the Omar Abdullah government in 2010 for civilian killings.

"Don't mix or compare the two situations. In 2010 there was a fake encounter. Today three militants were killed, how is the government to be blamed?" she reacted, adding that “protesters defied curfew and resorted to violence.

"Had a kid gone to buy a toffee from an army camp? A 15-year-old boy who attacked a police station, had he gone to buy milk? Don't compare the two," Mehbooba  said, emphasizing that "stone-throwing and protesting is not a solution."

Till then, the press conference was going on in a cordial atmosphere. The Home Minister had been replying each and every question with utmost caution of vocabulary. And, given his patience and humility before the media, it looked he would reply as many questions as posed irrespective of who   asked what about Kashmir issue.

But as Mehbooba got furious, initially, Rajnath was seen smiling and trying to pacify the Chief Minister. But while Rajnath was still seated, furious Mehbooba suddenly got up from her chair asking media persons to have tea.

Within moments, the Home minister also stood up to follow host Chief Minister at her residence.

This infuriated many of the journalists who staged a walkout saying they had not come to “relish tea when Kashmir is witnessing bloodbath” but to have a “serious talk” with the government over the situation.

Earlier Rajnath indicated government's willingness to talk to separatists and also said an alternative to pellet guns, which have caused massive injuries among protesters, was on the cards.

Asked whether the government would talk to the separatist Hurriyat leadership, Rajnath said: "We are willing to talk to anyone within the ambit of Kashmiriyat, Jamooriyat and Insaniyat."

He also said that an all-party delegation would visit Kashmir, where 10,000 have been injured in clashes after the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani.

The home minister was on a 2-day visit to Kashmir to review security and interact with civil society groups, political parties and other stakeholders as part of the efforts recently promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “permanent solution to Kashmir.”

Rajnath said he met as many as 300 delegates, comprising civil society and representatives of all the mainstream parties.

The Union Home Minister said the future of Kashmir is linked with India’s future, while appealing people “brothers and sisters in Kashmir not to play with the future of youth”.

“Not only Kashmiris, people across India are pained at killings in Kashmir,” said Rajnath.

He said that young boys who should have computers, pens and books are holding stones in their hands.

“Who allows them to take stones in their hands? Identify those making trouble,” said Rajnath adding strict action would be taken against such persons, whom Mehbooba referred to as five percent of the population.

He said an all-party delegation would be sent to Kashmir by that the state government needs to prepare for the same.

“We want to bring all-party delegation to Kashmir. I have told this to Mehbooba Mufti to make preparations,” said Rajnath.

Meanwhile, later in the day Rajnath Singh flew back to New Delhi.

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