Dr Manmohan Singh led Congress policy planning group has called for a political engagement with Kashmir and batted for a return to secularist values to keep J&K united and strengthen the states bond with the country. Top Congress leader and the former J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad advocated the talks with the separatists, saying the option shouldn't be closed. He drew a comparison between his term as the Chief Minister and the situation now, saying his government had brought peace to South Kashmir but over the past three years situation had worsened.
Azad, however, refused to be drawn into the controversy over the Article 35A saying the issue had only recently come into limelight and therefore not been incorporated into their group's agenda when it was formed in April. But Congress leaders in their interactions with the media expressed themselves against any attempt to do away with the constitutional provision, saying it was part of the special status guaranteed to the state in lieu of the accession to Republic of India.
The group, however, didnt meet Hurriyat leaders, nor had it extended any invitation to them. According to senior Congress leader Tariq Hameed Karra, the delegations which met the visiting group had done so voluntarily. More than 50 delegations spanning political and civil society groups met the Congress group. Among the civil society groups which met the delegation was Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies headed by Dr Hameedah Nayeem. The organization urged Congress to float a proposal in parliament for the restoration of the pre 1953 position as a grand CBM to be followed by the final resolution through meaningful time bound tripartite negotiations.
Dr Singh, on his part, chose to only listen and not issue any statement, nor talk to media. But he struck a chord as a throwback to a time when New Delhi apparently tried to be sensitive if not accommodative towards the issues facing the state. The past three years of the NDA-led rule in New Delhi have kept Kashmir on edge. Relentless efforts and noises to strip Kashmir of its special status, the latest of which being the legal challenge to Article 35A by an allegedly RSS-allied NGO, have built a largely favourable opinion about Singhs ten year rule.
Singh's ten years at the helm had also witnessed the most promising peace process between India and Pakistan which had nearly culminated into the resolution of Kashmir. At one point of time as the Kashmir solution seemed within reach, Singh had famously talked of a time when people in India would be able to have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. Besides holding substantive negotiations with Pakistan over the then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf's four point formula for Kashmir resolution, Singh had also set up five working groups and the three-member group of interlocutors to evolve a comprehensive response to the state's problems but none of their recommendations were followed through. However, Singhs visit to Srinagar as an opposition leader is important. The Valley will certainly look forward to Dr Singhs report, particularly what it has to say about safeguarding the Kashmirs special status and a solution to the current turmoil.
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