When she rose to speak in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was expected to answer the Opposition's questions about last year's unrest in the Valley, which claimed around 100 lives and left several hundred blinded.
That is what she did, but she had an ace up her sleeve: a rehabilitation plan for the victims of the violence, something that even the Hurriyat Conference, which egged on the protests, has turned a blind eye to.
Mehbooba announced an ex gratia relief of Rs 5 lakh for the kin of those killed during the unrest. She said possibilities of providing jobs would also be explored in cases of extreme compassion. The CM also announced government jobs for persons "who lost their eyesight during the unrest".
For students whose eyesight got affected during the turmoil, the government will arrange for education at Delhi and other places. Mehbooba added she had already spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley about this.
Significantly, in response to the Opposition's calls for an inquiry into the killings, the CM announced the setting up of a Special Investigating Team to probe the killing of a lecturer at Khrew, an ATM guard at Karan Nagar and other such killings.
She also announced the establishment of an SIT in each district to investigate the killings and injuries there, and to ascertain if excessive force was used to deal with situations.
The SITs would be asked to submit their reports in a time-bound manner.
"Once the reports are received, the government will take the necessary steps to deliver justice to the affected," she assured the Assembly.
But that wasn't all. The CM said the government would review cases of detained persons, and assured that "those found least involved will be released". She also promised a review in cases of youth held in previous unrests.
"Immediately after taking over, I had ordered a review of the cases of youth since 2008, so that they could start their life afresh," Mehbooba said. "But unfortunately, the whole process got slowed down due to the disturbed situation in the Kashmir Valley."
The path of reconciliation
Mehbooba has designed a new programme to reach out to local militants. She said she had categorically directed the security agencies, during the last Unified Command meeting, to ensure the return of local youth involved in militancy to mainstream life.
"I told them (security agencies) they should take all the measures required for that," the CM told the House, adding that so far, six youth had been rescued during the encounters, with the help of their families.
Giving data on the arrests made during the turmoil, Mehbooba said there were only 138 persons in police custody at present. "All others who were arrested in the cases have been released on bail," she said. "Out of 463 persons detained under PSA, 145 have been set free."
Mehbooba also reached out to the Opposition National Conference, saying she did not favour comparing the unrests in 2016 and 2010. "Our people have not chosen us to count the dead, but to get Jammu and Kashmir out of this morass," she said, and sought cooperation from the MLAs in her efforts to ensure that such unfortunate cycles of violence were not repeated, and people did not suffer any longer.
She also appreciated the "unanimous concern of the House in expressing sorrow and pain over the killings", adding that "every shade of opinion in the state should come forward and contribute in developing a violence-free, peaceful state".
The CM, instead, chose to blame Pakistan and the separatists for plotting the protests, saying they had failed to do so earlier over the issues of separate Kashmiri Pandit and Sainik colonies, but struck when Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed.
"Preparations for the unrest were made in advance," she said. "The day after Burhan was killed, slogans were raised at the mosques and a large number of CDs were distributed."
Mehbooba also tapped into the narrative that Pakistan repeatedly resorts to terror attacks in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's attempts at engagement. She also maintained that the Hurriyat had rejected dialogue by shutting its doors to the members of the all-party delegation led by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
Moving on to more contentious terrain, Mehbooba made yet another attempt to rationalise the killings by arguing that it was difficult for the security personnel to practise restraint when a mob attacked police stations and security camps with petrol bombs, stones and axes.
Speech counts for little
But for its rehabilitation component, the CM's speech counted for little. It was predictable - a rehash of the tired statements she makes in her media interactions, which hardly ever translate into policy actions.
However, the announcement of monetary compensation and employment for victims of violence is where she may have stolen a march over both the Hurriyat and the Opposition. This is something that even Omar Abdullah didn't do as Chief Minister, following the killings of 120 youth in the 2010 uprising.
The recent excesses of her government have resulted in Mehbooba losing political credibility. The rehabilitation package will allow her to build a utilitarian bridge to the alienated sections of the population in Kashmir, which in the fullness of time, might help her sneak back into public favour.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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