The Union government has no intention of filing criminal charges against Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, writer Arundhati Roy and others who spoke in favour of ‘azadi' for Jammu and Kashmir at a seminar here last week, highly placed sources told The Hindu on Tuesday.

The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is taking a strident position, insisting that a case of sedition be lodged against those who spoke at the seminar, but the Centre believes that acting on this demand will undermine the fragile dialogue process the government's three interlocutors have begun in Srinagar.

With Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari urging those Kashmiris raising slogans in favour of ‘azadi' to put their thoughts down in writing, the irony of criminalising a mere speech has not been lost on New Delhi.

“We knew the BJP would try and make the holding of the seminar an issue,” the sources said, adding police permission for the public event was given because the organisers could easily have gone to court had the authorities tried pre-emptively to gag them. The meeting was thus videographed, and the proceedings were scrutinised.

The sources said permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs was not needed for the police to file a case of sedition, but added that North Block did not believe that charging or arresting Mr. Geelani and Ms. Roy made sense.

“Geelani himself has said some 70 cases have been filed against him so let there be a 71st,” the sources said. They also admitted — as Ms. Roy herself notes in a statement issued on Tuesday — that scores of people in the Kashmir Valley say every day what the writer and the Hurriyat leader are accused of saying at the meeting. If the two of them are now to be arrested for sedition on the basis of their speech, so would scores of people in Srinagar.

The sources welcomed the efforts the three interlocutors had made so far and said the Centre's aim was to begin a broad political process with all sections of the people in the State, but especially with those who say they want autonomy and ‘azaadi.'

Correction: an editing error has been corrected on 27/10/2010

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