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Will withdraw AFSPA from Kashmir once normalcy returns: Rajnath

Lucknow: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act can be withdrawn from Kashmir once normalcy is restored, even as he slammed the Congress for promising to review the AFSPA in its manifesto for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Singh was addressing a public meeting in support of Cabinet colleague Mahesh Sharma, who is the BJP candidate in Gautam Buddha Nagar, where he accused the Congress of wanting to dilute AFSPA in an attempt to weaken the armed forces.

“We have strengthened the hands of our soldiers with AFSPA in disturbed areas where extremists and terrorists run their activities. But Congress wants to weaken our soldiers and security forces. We will not let this happen,” he said. The Union Minister added that the government has already withdrawn ASFPA in Tripura, parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.

Signalling a characteristic shift in its position on issues related to national security and individual freedom, the Congress, in its election manifesto released on Tuesday promised to “review” the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and Disturbed Areas Act which empower and provide immunity to security forces in areas hit by insurgency and militancy.

The manifesto made a specific proposal related to national security in Jammu & Kashmir, with the party claiming it will “review” both the AFSPA and Disturbed Areas Act. “Suitable changes will be made in the text of the laws to balance the requirements of security and the protection of human rights,” it stated.

The party also promised to repeal the colonial-era sedition law and leave out the IPC section on criminal defamation. Slamming the Congress for its mandate on the sedition law, Singh said, “A befitting reply will be given to whosoever tries to break India. Those who will do rashtradroh, they will be in jail, I am shocked that the Congress is speaking for such rashtradrohis,” adding that by pushing for such policies, the Congress is “promising to protect anti-nationals.”

Singh’s remarks on Kashmir come a day after he told The Indian Express in an interview: “This turmoil will end. We are on track to end this for all time. How long can a handful of leaders keep betraying the people there and play with their future?” The minister further declared that the government is going to develop Kashmir and that “Kashmiris have a distinct identity in the country. They have talent.”

Commenting on the recent outcry over the possibility of scrapping Articles 370 and 35A, which vests special powers to J&K, and how such a move may trigger widespread resentment in the Valley, Singh said that the government has not said anything on the matter yet. “Are they dreaming that we are abolishing it? We haven’t said anything on it as yet. Why are they hallucinating? Separatists there will have to cooperate in the development of Kashmir. Whatever we will do will be in the best interests of Kashmir,” he was quoted as saying by The Indian Express. (Agencies)

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