BJP General Secretary Ravi Shankar Prasad tells Kunal Majumder his party wants to change the discourse on J&K
Why has the BJP launched a parallel dialogue mission in Jammu & Kashmir?
It is not a parallel dialogue mission. We are not joining the picnic of interlocutors. We have maintained that Kashmir is a part of India and falls within the framework of the Indian Constitution. To understand the problems of Kashmir, one must understand the problems of the entire region. Party President Nitin Gadkari had constituted a committee about six months ago but the visit was delayed because of the elections. We have now visited the state with Rajnath Singh as leader of a team comprising of senior members Shahnawaz Hussain, Maya Singh, JP Nadda and JK Jain.
Will it not subvert the work being done by the government-appointed interlocutors?
When Rajnathji was asked this question, he said we would be talking to people, while staying within the framework of the Constitution and the boundaries of insaaf ( justice) and insaniyat (humanity). There is a sense of alienation in the state. As the principal Opposition party, we need to conduct a tour to understand the problem. For instance, we learnt that the sense of discrimination in Jammu cuts across religions, while 60 percent of Jammu is Hindu and the rest Muslims. The J&K High Court has not appointed a single Muslim lawyer from Jammu as judge, in spite of many having become district judges. This is a sad commentary.
But the BJP had criticised the MPs’ delegation for meeting the separatists in September?
We will meet anyone willing to come forward within the framework of the Constitution. Our stand on Kashmir as an integral part of India is clear.
How optimistic are you of meeting all the stakeholders in Kashmir?
We are only into the second day of our visit. We have seen a lot of enthusiasm from the people. So far, 20 delegations, including lawyers, university teachers, Kashmiri Pandits, displaced persons, war veterans, Gujjars and Bakrawals have met us with their problems. For instance, Gujjars and Bakrawals are tribals but the ST Commission doesn’t have jurisdiction in J&K. Amendments to the Forest Rights Act have not been made applicable here. They do not have any political right. These are issues one needs to study.
How serious is the BJP on the issue of Kashmiri Pandits? They complain that no political party takes them seriously.
All of us are sympathetic about the deprivation and displacement the Pandits had to suffer. We have talked to them and are going to highlight their problems in our report. The recurring themes are unemployment and illiteracy.
Do you think hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani will be receptive to your initiative?
We are going with an open mind. I am sure a lot of people in the Valley whose voices have not been heard, will also speak their mind.
But when you say open mind, what happens to Article 370?
There will be no compromise with the integrity of this country. We have always been committed to Article 370. The question is whether it has helped us after 60 years? Such questions need to be examined in terms of education, employment, industrial growth and discrimination.
What concrete results do you expect out of this initiative?
The report will be presented to the BJP president. We want to make it a reference point so that the entire discourse on J&K changes.
Kunal Majumder is a Correspondent with Tehelka