NEW DELHI: Indian Home Minister Amit Shah said on Monday that the government in New Delhi would make all possible efforts to preserve control over Kashmir.
Addressing Parliament, Shah said: “Kashmir is an integral part of India.”
The province has been under the direct rule of New Delhi since June 2018.
On Friday Shah told Parliament that Article 370 of the constitution, giving special status to Kashmir, had been meant as a “temporary provision” and that it should be updated. He blamed the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, for the “mistake.”
Shah’s comments received a sharp reaction across the region.
The leader of the Congress Party in Kashmir, Saifuddin Soz said: “The people of Kashmir have time and again made it clear that unless the dispute over Kashmir is resolved, the constitution guarantees internal autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. It can, therefore, neither be abrogated nor amended against the will of the people.”
For the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), abrogation of Article 370 from the constitution has been a political goal for some time.
In the recent general elections, the BJP returned an almost two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament and inched toward securing the majority needed in the upper chamber to begin the process.
Shah’s controversial statement comes within a week of his party offering talks to separatist leaders in Kashmir.
Responding to the first conciliatory gesture by the Indian government in five years, Kashmir separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said last week that he was ready for dialogue with New Delhi.
“As the most affected party with daily killings of our young, we would naturally like to resolve the issue,” Farooq, chairman of the Hurriyat movement, said.
Indian-administered Kashmir is the country’s only Muslim-majority state, at the heart of the major dispute between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan for more than seven decades.
In February, the countries came close to war when a Pakistan-based militant group claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a convoy of paramilitary vehicles in southern Kashmir, claiming more than 50 lives.
India retaliated by attacking what it claimed was a militant training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot area, while Islamabad flew sorties into Indian airspace, resulting in the downing of an Indian jet.
All this played a major role in the thumping general election victory of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Saturday, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik, told journalists in Srinagar that the Hurriyat was willing to talk with the government.
“I feel happy that the temperature has gone down,” said Malik, who was made head of the state in August last year.
“Hurriyat has always been in favor of talks as the means of resolution. Dialogue among stakeholders is the best and most peaceful means of resolution for the Kashmir issue, not force. We have engaged with both India and Pakistan in the past,” added Farooq.
“Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer of dialogue between India and Pakistan, including on the issue of Kashmir, should also be seriously considered as the way forward.”
BJP leaders in Kashmir also welcomed the prospect of new talks.
“This is not a bad thing. When the temperature is low and when the separatist leaders have understood the importance of dialogue, this is a positive development,” said Dr. Hina Bhat, a Srinagar-based BJP leader.
“We have never said no to dialogue with Pakistan. We have reached out to them in the past. I expect that the new prime minister will not repeat the mistakes of history.”