PM, Sonia to skirt politics, focus on development in J&K

    By IANS,

    Srinagar : As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi begin their two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir Tuesday, their focus is expected to be on development, not politics.

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    There is no indication of any major political announcement, as the prime minister and UPA chairperson, who is also the Congress party chief, meet delegations in Srinagar June 25, and address a public meeting in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district June 26.

    The prime minister will lay the foundation stone of the 850-MW Rattle hydro power project in Kishtwar district of Jammu region and co-chair a meeting of the state council of ministers to review the implementation of the ambitious Rs.37,000-crore Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Package (announced nine years ago, for setting up 65 projects in a span of five years).

    The prime minister will also release a stamp on Kashmiri revolutionary poet Mehjoor in Srinagar.

    Before departure for New Delhi June 26, the prime minister will inaugurate the 11-km-long railway tunnel across the Pir Panjal mountain range, connecting the Kashmir Valley with the Jammu region, cutting short the surface distance between Kashmir and the Jammu region by 17 km.

    The tunnel will also provide all-weather access across the Pir Panjal mountain range.

    The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway often gets closed in heavy snowfall during winter, causing regions across the Pir Panjal from Jammu to be cut off – at times for a few months – each year.

    State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has indicated that since the Lok Sabha elections are due next year, an invitation for talks to separatist leaders during this visit was unlikely.

    A highly placed source, however, said: “The doors of the prime minister are always open for anyone who wants to engage in dialogue for peace and development in Jammu and Kashmir.”

    The separatists, however, do not expect to be invited for talks during this visit by the prime minister and the UPA chairperson.

    Muhammad Nayeem Khan, a senior separatist leader, said: “Just saying that the doors are always open indicates that the centre is no longer serious in engaging in a meaningful, result-oriented dialogue with Kashmiri leadership.”

    Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who visited Kashmir last week, said that the UPA government has succeeded in changing the sentiment in the valley where the people now look forward to peace and development.

    The statement bore a clear message that the “change of sentiment” has been achieved without engaging the separatist leadership in a dialogue process, or taking Pakistan on board for the peace process.

    Meanwhile, despite the fears that the tourism industry would wilt under political strife in Kashmir, a promising number of tourists has been reaching the valley, this year and last.

    Tourism and development ironically appear to be the two major agents ushering in peace in the troubled state.

    Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, though, has claimed that neither economic packages nor the gun would solve the Kashmir problem. The UPA government at the centre, however, seems all set to press ahead with an aggressive development agenda for the state.