National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah on Wednesday defended the stone-pelting youth in the Valley, saying they are fighting for the nation and for the resolution of the Kashmir issue as per the wishes of its people.
But the remarks by the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister came in for sharp condemnation from the state's ruling coalition partners PDP and the BJP. The PDP dubbed the remarks as "political opportunism" while the BJP said it was "worrisome".
Abdullah, who also said that the stone-pelting youth were not giving up their lives for tourism, is contesting the bye- election to Srinagar Lok Sabha seat as the joint candidate of opposition NC and Congress. The polling in the constituency is to be held on April 9.
The NC leader was reacting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement on April 2 at the inauguration of Chenani- Nashri tunnel that the youth of Kashmir need to choose between tourism and terrorism.
"If he (stone pelting youth) is giving up his life, he is not doing it for tourism. He is giving his life so that the destiny of this nation is decided which should be acceptable to the people of this place. This needs to be understood," Abdullah said at an election meeting in Sonawar.
"Recently the tunnel was opened. He (the Prime Minister) said the youth here should think whether they want tourism or terrorism. I want to tell Modi sahib tourism is our lifeline, there is no doubt about it.
"But he is a stone pelter. He has nothing to do with tourism. He will starve to death but he is pelting stones for his nation and there is a need to understand this," he added.
Abdullah also said that if India and Pakistan cannot resolve their problems, then the US should come forward and facilitate as third party to resolve their bilateral issues.
Union Minister and senior BJP leader Jitendra Singh dubbed as "worrisome" Abdullah's defence of stone-pelters in Kashmir and accused him of getting tempted to speak "language of separatists" for electoral gains.
"It is quite worrisome...a politician of stature of Abdullah has also come under the pressure of upcoming polls and therefore, has felt tempted to speak the language of separatists," Singh told reporters in Delhi.
"It seems that just in a bid to woo certain constituency, some of the Kashmir-centric campaigners have felt tempted to use the jargon of separatists," Singh added.
He further said that Abdullah's remarks raise "larger question" if one should succumb to expediency of electioneering "at the cost of consistency when it comes to nationalist views and beliefs".
Senior PDP leader and Works Minister Naeem Akhtar said the NC was indulging in political opportunism.
"This is nothing but political opportunism," he said.
Reacting to the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley's statement that the Trump administration would try and "find its place" in efforts to de-escalate Indo-Pak tension, Abdullah said New Delhi and Islamabad's failure to engage with each other bilaterally over the years had added weight to the argument for "international mediation".
"New Delhi cannot remain invested in the status-quo on the Kashmir issue and all possible methods of engagement and facilitation could be explored in the quest for a lasting resolution.
"National Conference has always advocated and encouraged bilateral engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad on the Kashmir Issue but unfortunately whatever rare efforts were made to engage bilaterally failed to yield any concrete results," he added.
The NC leader said to think that New Delhi can somehow afford to remain invested in the status quo on the Kashmir Issue is wrong.
"New Delhi is obligated to be proactive in seeking a just, fair and acceptable solution to the Kashmir Issue and had they been forthcoming and keen in talking bilaterally, the question of international mediation would not have been raised today," Abdullah said.
He asked New Delhi and Islamabad to realize their responsibility in "rescuing the tormented and suffering" people of Kashmir from the throes of "uncertainty and pain".
"You owe us your sincerity and commitment in initiating an open-ended, serious dialogue on Kashmir. It is a Kashmiri who suffers because of an obstinacy that has prevented comprehensive and sustained talks till now and sadly you expect us to suffer in perpetuity. The people of Kashmir have not been striving for a tunnel or for economic packages but for a just, fair and acceptable solution to the vexed political issue as per their aspirations," he added.
Seeking unity among all stakeholders in Kashmir, Abdullah said they should unite in the quest for resolving the political issue.
Feature image source: PTI/File Photo