Union home minister Rajnath Singh and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti interact with media during a press conference in Srinagar. Photo courtesy: PTI
Union home minister Rajnath Singh and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti interact with media during a press conference in Srinagar. Photo courtesy: PTI

SRINAGAR (TIP): Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti walked out of a press conference with Union home minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday even as the Centre promised an alternative to pellet guns that have left thousands of people with eye injuries in the Valley.

Singh’s announcement on a substitute for pellet guns soon and willingness for talks with “anybody” to end the wave of violence in Kashmir capped his two-day visit to the Valley where violent protests after the killing of a militant commander have left at least 68 people dead.

However, the government’s outreach was overshadowed by Mehbooba leaving the joint press conference in a huff after reporters repeatedly questioned her handling of the situation and compared her stand during a similar violent phase in 2010.

The press conference was her first formal interaction with the media since violence broke out on July 9 but it ended abruptly after journalists asked how she could justify the alleged disproportionate use of force when she had criticised her predecessor Omar Abdullah during the 2010 street protests that left more than 100 dead.

They also asked her to clarify a remark that said “only 5% of the population (is) supporting the current agitation’’.

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“I did not say it’s just 5%. All I said was 95% people in the Valley want peaceful resolution to the problem. The issue has, however, been hijacked by 5% of people who believe in violence,’’ a visibly upset Mehbooba said even as Singh tried to pacify her, constantly patting her on the knee.

As tempers rose, Mehbooba said the 2010 and 2016 unrests could not be compared as the earlier protests were against alleged human rights violations – a fake encounter, rape and murder.

“Today, three militants were killed, as has been happening for years, people came out on the roads and curfew was imposed. How is the government to be blamed?” she asked.

Mehbooba blamed “miscreants” for inciting children to violence and justified the killing of protesters by security forces.

“Most of the children killed (by security forces) died in retaliation for attacking army camps. The children didn’t go to the army camp to buy milk or toffees,” said Mehbooba, CM Mufti, whose Peoples Democratic Party is in an alliance with the BJP.

Earlier, Rajnath Singh said the government was ready to talk to anybody, raising hopes in Kashmir of possible negotiations with the separatist Hurriyat Conference that has two factions and claims to represent the all sections in the Valley.

“Anybody who is willing to talk within the framework of “kashmiriyat (Kashmiri ethos), insaniyat (humanity) and jamooriyat (democracy) is welcome. This includes everybody,” Singh said, going back to the three principles floated by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Singh said an expert committee will submit within four days a report on pellet guns.

The home minister also urged people to identify those “fanning trouble”, hinting at what the government calls elements backed by Pakistan to instigate people to attack security forces.

“Youth in Kashmir should have pens, books and computers in their hands, not stones. If Kashmir has no future, India has no future,” Singh said adding the government will appoint a nodal officer, and the people of Kashmir can reach out to him directly in need.

Singh also said an all-party delegation will be sent to Kashmir to access the situation.

“I’ve told CM Mehbooba Mufti that an all-party delegation should visit the state and preparations should be made for that,” Singh said.

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