Jitendra Singh, Minister of State(MoS)(Independent Charge) for the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region spoke exclusively to WION's senior correspondent Kartikeya Sharma on J&K, stone-pelting and several other issues.
Q: What is the reality of stone throwers in the valley?
A: The separatist politics in the valley has been the politics of other means. Those who could not make it in mainstream politics take an extreme stand or when they are out of power they take an extreme stand. As far as the stone-pelters are concerned, they become a means for them to promote their activism in the valley to hold Centre to ransom. They have the advantage of being funded by Pakistan and ISI. It is more of a mercenary stone throwing, these leaders don’t send their children to throw stones.
Q: Is there an effort to glamourise stone-pelters in the valley?
A: Media focus serves as an oxygen to them. Most of them don’t contest popular elections but even mainstream Kashmiri politicians indulge in semi-separatist jargon which I would say is very irresponsible.
Q: So how do you address the issue of stone-pelters in the valley?
A: Lasting solution is to reach out to the youngsters. Even the Army Chief has spoken about it. They must be told that they are being taken for a ride. There is a strong Pakistan factor. Social media is being used across the border. Whenever an operation commences, WhatsApp messages are sent to youth to rush to the site of encounter and the messages don’t come from the site of operation but across the border. We need to counter this propaganda.
Q: Pellet guns have become controversial because of injuries they have caused?
A: I’m not going to have the last word on it. As we understand now there is politics involved. Those who oppose pellet guns like Congress which facilitated the use of pellet guns. As I said that it is a fashion in Kashmir that regional parties speak in a different language when in power and different when out of power. No one would deny that injuries have taken place but security forces are trying to evolve different methods to deter the crowd.
Q: Is there a Modi doctrine when it comes to Kashmir?
A: What we have today is a Kashmir baggage and we blame Nehru for it. Though it is not pleasant but Patel should have been allowed to handle Kashmir. What we have is one-third of Kashmir. Kashmir is about composite culture and traditions which overlap but with the departure of Kashmiri pundits, composite culture cannot be claimed. PM’s agenda is development and the youth to be the architect of new India.
Q: PM has taken a number of bold steps in different parts of public affairs but not in Kashmir, why?
A: What we have is clarity and consistency. We have said that we have zero tolerance for corruption and terrorism and held true to the mantra. PM is clear, terror and talk cannot go hand in hand.
Q: How do you politically stabilise the state?
A: There are one or two factors peculiar to J&K. In J&K dissent takes the form of secession. It has certain bargaining value. This needs to be streamlined without stifling the democratic outlets. We should educate the children. This kind of protest needs to be de-glamourised and there cannot be a premium on anti-India activism whether physical violence or intellectual activism. You would have seen people talking against India become instant newsmakers. We need to draw a line on this issue. Many leaders earlier would say one thing in Srinagar, one thing in Jammu and another in Delhi. They are being exposed today.
Q: The process of rehabilitation of Kashmiri pundits has been slow despite your government in power. Why?
A: I would agree that unless return of Kashmiri pundits is not completed we would not regain composite Kashmir. We are committed to this cause. In principle, the return must be respectable and secure. You cannot push them unless and until safety can be guaranteed. A number of options have been discussed.
Q: There is always a hue and cry in the valley whenever there is a proposal for Army colony or land for Kashmiri pundits. It is your government and you should have taken the bull by the horn.
A: We have been in discussion with the Kashmiri pundit community. I know there has been a hue and cry about the issue but we will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of religion and Kashmiris belongs to both Muslims and Hindus.
Q: Hindus have not got the minority rights in the state. What have you done about it?
A: The issue of minority per se is not only limited to Jammu and Kashmir. Basically, in the Constitution, I don’t know whether to call it anomaly or aberration, it includes designated minority communities. Since I take care of North-East, there are 7 to 8 such states like Meghalaya, AP, Nagaland and Punjab where Sikhs are in the majority, are in minority. This is an aberration and SC too is seized of the matter. I’m sure that in course of time some mechanism would be evolved. If you go by the Constitution, a Muslim is a minority member regardless of the state he lives like J&K or Christian would be considered a minority in Meghalaya even if he lives in a Christian majority state. Same goes for Sikhs in Punjab and it is an aberration and cannot be denied. The Minority Affairs ministry too is seized of this matter.
Q: Are you going to correct it?
A: I’m not in that position to comment as it falls in the purview of Ministery of Home Affairs(MHA) but they are seized of the matter and they are trying to take the best way out. The issue is those earlier governments didn’t bell the cat.
Q: Do you believe in J&K’s exceptionalism when it comes to the Indian Union?
A: I don’t... the only issue is to retrieve the pending territory of Kashmir...
Q: Then what about article 356. There is no talk about it?
A: There is a constitutional position being adhered to. As far we are considered, J&K is part of the Indian Union, like any other state.
Q: PM said that blood and water cannot flow together. Despite cross-border raids, attacks have gone up. What needs to be done now?
A: We are adopting strategies on a need-to-know basis to combat Pakistan sponsored terrorism. Retaliatory action has been much better than what it used to be previously and now forces have high morale as they have clear orders from the top. That is why civilian population also feels secure.
Q: Doesn’t it worry you that idiom of protest has acquired Islamic overtones...
A: It is a great concern to all of us but it is a world-wide phenomenon. It is added challenge which we would need to engage at multiple levels...
Q: There is lot controversy around RTI. Why are you changing the rules?
A: We have not fiddled with RTI. We are committed to transparency. What we have done is to initiate the process of implementation of regulations into rules which were brought in by the UPA government. We have put out a circular asking for suggestions from the people. SC anyways has already questioned the government and there is an urgency to frame rules. What we have done is to invite people’s opinion. And it is not final. This draft too was drafted by the UPA government. We are finishing a pending job left by the UPA...
Q: J&K CM has described the stone-pelters as troubled and said that their pain should be understood. Your comments?
A: There is a difference. Means are as important as ends as Gandhi said. They may be pained but means of the dissent should be in a framework. Does it mean that disillusioned youth in Delhi be encouraged to pelt stones? The best means in a healthy democracy is to engage with the government. PM Modi has made numerous visits to J&K. This dispensation is receptive and there are other means available to the youth other than stone-pelting and it should not be encouraged...