Saturday, April 19, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

PM offers friendship to Pakistan
Tribune News Service and agencies

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed during a function at Srinagar airport on Friday. 

Mr Vajpayee presents an appointment letter to a militancy victim in Srinagar on Friday. — PTI photos

Srinagar, April 18
On one of the rare visits and a rarer public address here, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today offered a hand of friendship to Pakistan and dialogue with the people of Jammu and Kashmir to settle “internal and external issues” but made it clear that the gun could not resolve problems.

At a public meeting addressed by a Prime Minister after 15 years in the militancy-hit state, Mr Vajpayee, however, accused Islamabad of not responding to peace initiatives taken by India.

“.....We once again extend the hand of friendship, but it should be reciprocated by both sides,” he said recalling the peace initiatives taken by his government, including the Lahore bus journey and the Agra summit.

Addressing the meeting shortly after Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed spoke justifying his healing touch policy, Mr Vajpayee said the Centre would work in tandem with the new government to “change the face of the state”.

He said the path of peace and brotherhood might be time-consuming but the people would have to bear it. “The doors of Delhi are always open and the people (from J and K) are free to knock at them with their problems.”

Taking credit for holding free and fair Assembly elections in the state, he congratulated the people on exercising their democratic right “at grave risk to their lives and even daring death”.

Greeting the people on the occasion of Kashmiri new year “Navroz”, the Prime Minister expressed the hope that the state would witness an era of peace, prosperity and brotherhood.

Maintaining that the Centre would create new job avenues in various sectors including road construction and housing, the Prime Minister said, “It is our duty to make the Mufti government successful”.

Observing that unemployment was one of the biggest problems in J and K, Mr Vajpayee assured the people that the Centre would make all efforts to provide jobs. Like voting, employment should be made a right, he added.

Laying the foundation stone of the North-South Corridor of the Srinagar Bypass on the National Highway 1A, he said his government wanted to reduce the “distance” between the Centre and the states and that was why the highway project was launched.

People from far-flung areas reached Srinagar to attend the rally, which has been described as a show of strength by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.

Congress leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Mangat Ram Sharma, were conspicuous by their absence. The Congress is the senior coalition partner in the state government.

The Prime Minister also invited all groups in Jammu and Kashmir for talks to ensure restoration of peace in the insurgency-hit state.

The Hurriyat Conference, while giving a two-day general strike call during Mr Vajpayee’s visit, had urged the Prime Minister to take “positive initiative” for the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

“We have to save democracy, humanity and Kashmiriyat in the state. Kashmiriyat has to be saved at all cost,” Mr Vajpayee said.

Referring to Iraq, he said India was always against war because guns never solve any problem. “The war in Iraq has ended. Good. But in the first place, the war should never have taken place.”

“We have come to share your joy and grief. We have come to listen to your problems and make efforts to redress them,” he said.

Mr Vajpayee’s visit endorsed the coalition parties’ common minimum programme and its healing touch policy. The PM distributed appointment orders on compassionate grounds to seven youths on the occasion.

Life was paralysed in the valley due to the Hurriyat’s call for strike as the Prime Minister spent over 50 minutes in the stadium. The stadium echoed with slogans by the people in support of Mr Vajpayee and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, and “Grenade say na goli say, baat banagee boli say”. There were banners like “Mufti sahab ka kadwa sach, healing touch hai, healing touch hai”.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed urged the youth to shun the path of violence and come forward for talks to put forth their point of view for the restoration of peace in the state.

He said normalcy was restored in the North-East and Punjab through the process of reconciliation and dialogue. He said that all sections should join the dialogue process and hold talks with the Centre’s interlocutor, Mr N.N. Vohra, who is scheduled to arrive here on Monday.

Referring to the healing touch policy, Mufti Sayeed said that compassionate government jobs were being provided to the next of kin of victims of militancy and the process was continuing to clear the backlog of such cases.


Cong leaders not allowed on dais
Tribune News Service

Jammu, April 18
The largest coalition partner of the PDP-led government in Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress, had to cut a sorry figure as none of its leaders was allowed on the dais from where the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, addressed a public meeting at Srinagar today.

The public meeting was of significance not only for the local people, but was also being watched keenly by the international community because of the importance of Mr Vajpayee’s visit amid the ongoing Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the state.

Significantly, none of the Congress leaders, including the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Mangat Ram Sharma, was seen on the dais with the Prime Minister, where only the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the Governor and three BJP ministers from the Centre were allowed. The stage was conducted by the Finance Minister, Mr Muzaffar Hussain Beig, also the President of the PDP.

Mr Mangat Ram Sharma had flown to Srinagar to participate in the public functions of the Prime Minister. He was present at the foundation-laying function at the Srinagar airport, where he shared the dais, along with former Chief Minister and National Conference leader, Dr Farooq Abdullah.

Some Congress leaders here were disappointed over the Deputy Chief Minister not being invited on the dais either by the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister, who was in power only with the support of the Congress.

The Minister for Civil Aviation, Mr Shahnawaz Hussain, the Surface Transport Minister, Maj-Gen (retd) B.C. Khanduri, and the Minister of State for Defence, Mr Chaman Lal Gupta, were present on the dais. The Governor, Mr G.C. Saxena, sat beside the Prime Minister.

Although the public meeting was an official function to mark the beginning of work on the wide highway linking the north with the southern parts of the country, the absence of the Congress leader was noticed by the people.

Leaders of the Congress, the Panthers Party and the CPM and Independents sat under the shamiana near the dais. The National Conference had announced its decision to boycott the public meeting.

The Hurriyat Conference had given a call for bandh in the valley for two days during the Prime Minister’s visit. The Chief Minister, known for his organising capacity, made the public meeting impressive by ensuring a large audience.

The last public meeting at Srinagar addressed by the Prime Minister was in 1986 by Rajiv Gandhi.

Meanwhile, the Janata Dal (S), at a meeting of state office-bearers of the party, criticised the Hurriyat Conference for giving the bandh call. It accused the Hurriyat Conference of dancing to the tune of Pakistan.

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