Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on Thursday hit out at both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the opposition Congress for not speaking out against the "systematic targeting of Kashmiris" in various parts of the country following the Pulwama terror attack last week.
Addressing a press conference in Srinagar, the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said he had been looking for a statesman but only found politicians, and asserted that the country needs an alternative to the BJP, not BJP's B-team.
"We didn't have much expectation from the BJP but we had expectations from the prime minister. We had hoped he would keep politics aside and say something," he told reporters.
"While the PM is silent, it is sad the country's largest opposition party's leadership also remained silent," Abdullah added, a week after 40 CRPF soldiers were killed in a terror attack in south Kashmir's Pulwama district on February 14.
Abdullah also asked Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik to ensure the security of Kashmiri students who were forced to return home following alleged threats and attacks in several parts of the country after the terror strike.
"There is need to ensure the safety of Kashmiri students who have returned home fearing attacks on them," he said, adding that arrangements should be made so they don't suffer academic losses.
The people of Kashmir, Abdullah said, were expecting to hear two words of sympathy and moral support from the Congress.
"Today, they had a press conference where everything was talked about. But they should have talked about the systematic targeting as well. These are the very forces that Congress is fighting with words and want to defeat... We regret the Congress has not raised its voice against these forces effectively," he added.
Asked if the BJP was behind the attacks on Kashmiris, the National Conference vice president said he had no firm evidence to suggest it.
"But there definitely is a silence," he said, recalling that then prime minister Manmohan Singh appeared on national television on November 27, 2008, one day after terrorists struck Mumbai in what has come to be known as the 26/11 terror siege.
"Manmohan Singh... called for calm and called for ensuring that there is no attempt to take the law in one's own hands, that there will be no selective targeting of a particular community," he said.
While the scale of the 26/11 attack was far greater than the Pulwama bombing, the people of Jammu and Kashmir were experiencing the fallout, he said.
"It would not have been unfair to expect our current PM to take out a leaf from Manmohan Singh... and appeal to the country to not do this. This is a prime minister who has said those who criticise the new train should be punished.
"For some reason, criticising a train is more worrisome to our prime minister than assaulting and demonising an entire community. Now this is a prime minister, whose priorities, I am sorry, I fail to understand," he said.
Asked about the timing of the attacks on Kashmiris, Abdullah said it would be shortsighted on his part to suggest the forthcoming elections have nothing to do with it.
Responding to a question on whether the Congress was keeping silent due to elections, Abdullah said he hoped that was not the case.
"To my mind that would be a great disservice to this country. The country needs an alternative to the BJP, not BJP's B-team. I would expect and hope the Congress and all other like minded parties and right minded parties take a strong stand against this systematic targeting of Kashmiris," he said.
According to Abdullah, talks with Pakistan cannot be held in the backdrop of attacks such as the one in Pulwama.
"They (the Pakistan prime minister and administration) may offer dialogue but talks cannot be held in the backdrop of Pulwama like attacks. You (Pakistan) need to take some concrete measures there," he said.
Referring to Modi's comments of stern action after the Pulwama attack, Abdullah said such a response was not possible in the current scenario.
"Our PM has talked about a 'muh tod jawab' but such a reply is not possible in the current situation... Particularly now with the Pakistani PM having said that not only will Pakistan think of responding but will respond."
Referring to the withdrawal of security to 155 political persons, including separatists, he said, “I am not aware of anybody misusing security."
"Security was provided by successive governments based to threat perception. Two prominent separatist leaders who at some point of time advocated dialogue were killed by militants. Withdrawing security to mainstream political activists will prevent them from occupying the political space. I have already said this is a regressive step and should be reviewed. Else, we will go to court," he added.
Abdullah also criticised Meghalaya Governor Tathagatha Roy for backing the boycott of "everything Kashmiri" and said it was unfortunate.
Citing attacks in Chhattisgarh, he said no one called for punishing people in the state.
"... Why are we being punished? Just because we are the only Muslim majority state in the country?" Abdullah asked.
Incidents of selective targeting of Kashmiris will lead to further alienation of people in the state, he warned.