India ready for meaningful engagement with Pak: PM

Farooq, Mehbooba all praise for Atal
Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Aug 20:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today that it was late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who changed world’s narrative on Kashmir and terrorism became an important issue at the international level and the countries with or against the terrorism were clearly identified.
“When some were cornering India on the Kashmir issue, it was Vajpayee Ji who changed the narrative. Due to Vajpayee Ji, terrorism became an important issue at the world stage,” Modi said while addressing prayer meeting for Vajpayee, which among others was attended by three former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Dr Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.
“At the international level, India had to reply to the world on Kashmir. Every time, India was cornered on Kashmir. However, it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who used his foresightedness and experience as the Foreign Minister to counter world’s narrative on Kashmir and got it shifted successfully towards terrorism,” the Prime Minister said.
He added that due to Vajpayee’s efforts Kashmir got away from discussion and terrorism became the centre of talks.
“The world got clearly divided into two-one who were against the terrorism and the other, who were with it. Gradually, the world sided with India on the issue of terrorism due to the efforts of Vajpayee Ji,” he said.
Meanwhile, Modi has conveyed to his newly elected Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan India’s commitment to pursue “meaningful” and “constructive” engagement with Islamabad and emphasised the need to work for a terror-free South Asia.
In a letter to Khan on August 18, the day he was sworn in as Pakistan’s 22nd Prime Minister, Modi also expressed India’s resolve to build good neighbourly relations between the two countries, the sources said.
Sources said India’s position on engagement with Pakistan that talks and terror cannot go hand-in-hand has not changed at all.
“In the letter, the PM expressed India’s commitment to build good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan and pursue meaningful and constructive engagement for the benefit of the people of the region,” a source said.
In the letter, Modi recalled his telephonic conversation with Khan, in which they spoke of their shared vision to bring peace, security and prosperity in the Indian subcontinent to make it free of terror and violence, the sources said, quoting from the letter.
The Prime Minister also expressed the belief that the smooth transition of government in Pakistan will strengthen and cement people’s belief in democracy.
At the prayer meeting, Modi said: “When Atal Ji formed the Government for 13 days, no party was willing to support him. The Government fell. He did not lose hope and remained committed to serving the people. Atal Ji showed the way when it came to coalition politics”.
According to him, Atal Ji as Prime Minister created three States, which are prospering. The process of creating these States was peaceful and without bitterness, he said
“Atal Ji’s efforts ensured India became a nuclear power. He attributed the tests of 11th May 1998 to the brilliance of our scientists. Two days later, India tested again and showed what a strong political leadership can do. He never buckled under pressure. He was Atal after all,” Modi said.
He pointed out that Atal Ji spent several years in Opposition but not once did he compromise on his ideology.
“He distinguished himself as a Parliamentarian and was proud of our Parliamentary traditions
Atal Ji’s was a life for the people of India. In his youth itself he decided that he wants to serve his fellow Indians.  He entered politics when only one party held sway over the political discourse,” Modi recalled.
Paying rich tributes to Vajpayee, former J&K Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said the distance seen between the ruling party and the opposition today was not there earlier and the late BJP stalwart worked taking everyone along.
Speaking at the meeting, Azad said Vajpayee had brought together leaders cutting across ideological divides even in his death which, he added, was something rare.
The senior opposition leader quoted verses to heap praise on Vajpayee and said he was such an eloquent speaker that even his criticism sounded pleasant whereas, he added, there are some leaders who, even when they say something good, make it sound like abuses.
Azad recalled that as the Parliamentary Affairs Minister during the P V Narasimha Rao-led Government, he had to meet Vajpayee, then a key opposition leader, several times a day during Parliament’s sessions and they used to have tea and meals together.
“The distance we see today was not there then,” he said, apparently referring to the frosty relations between the Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Opposition.
Azad said many people in Vajpayee’s party (BJP) might not have seen him as closely as leaders like him had.
He mentioned leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Indira Gandhi and said Vajpayee would be remembered as one of the biggest leaders of his time who always worked for the country and its people.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi was expected to attend the event but could not as it was his father and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary today as well and sent Azad as his representative, the organizers said.
Addressing the prayer meeting, former Chief Minister of J&K and Lok Sabha MP from Srinagar, Dr Farooq Abdullah said Vajpayee had very big heart and never differentiated between the people on the name of region or religion. “He knew that if the country had to be developed, everyone has to be taken along,” he added.
Recalling Vajpayee’s visit to Kargil during war with Pakistan in 1999 when bullets were raining, Farooq said Atal stood with the Army jawans and categorically told Pakistan that they have committed mistake and will repent for it.
“His body is not here but his soul is looking towards all of us that whether we will make the country, which Atal Ji had dreamt, where people live with friendship. Vajpayee even used to tell the country’s neighbours that India is not their enemy,” Farooq said.
He recalled that when they visited Pokhran, where India had conducted nuclear tests, Vajpayee told them that the nuclear bombs were not meant for use against any country but to show India as a power.
“If we make India a country of love and friendship as desired by Atal Ji only that will be the befitting tribute to him,” Farooq said and thrice shouted the slogan of `Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and `Jai Hind’ and also made the gathering to follow him. He said the land which gave birth to Vajpayee deserved to be congratulated and hoped that the country would tread the path shown by him.
In her address, former Chief Minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said Vajpayee was not less than messiah for the people of Jammu and Kashmir as he was the first leader, who understood aspirations of the people of Kashmir, trusted them and won their trust.
“We often say, there is trust deficit (between people of country and J&K) but Vajpayee tried to build that trust,” she said.
Mehbooba recalled that when Assembly elections were due in 2002 in J&K and Vajpayee Ji was the Prime Minister, he made an announcement from the Red Fort that free and fair polls will be held in the State dispelling impression that Governments are thrust on the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
“For the first time, a legitimate Government was elected by the people in J&K during Vajpayee’s tenure,” Mehbooba said.
She recalled ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir, borders and Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore which even forced Gen Pervez Musharraf to state that Pakistan’s land will not be allowed to be used for terrorism or infiltration.
“Every Kashmiri weeps for Vajpayee,” she said and expressed hope that all problems of Jammu and Kashmir can be solved by treading the path shown by Vajpayee Ji, who took all people together and proved that he was leader of the BJP but the Prime Minister of all.