LJP functionary says he did not carry any message from BJP

Kashmiri Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani received a visitor from a key partner-party in the National Democratic Alliance, highly-placed intelligence sources in Jammu and Kashmir have confirmed to The Hindu. The revelation comes even as Mr. Geelani’s claim to have received envoys inviting him to open a dialogue with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party to denounce it as “lies with malicious intent.”

The sources identified one of the two visitors as Sanjay Saraf, a Kashmiri Pandit activist who represents Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party in Jammu and Kashmir and heads its national youth wing. The second visitor was ML Mattoo, a former legislator from old-city Srinagar’s Habbakadal neighbourhood, who is also active in Kashmiri Pandit politics.

Mr. Geelani had said on Friday that the envoys were both Kashmir Pandits, but declined to identify them, saying the March 22 meeting took place after an assurance confidentiality was given

Saraf says meeting personal

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Saraf admitted that he had met with Mr. Geelani in Srinagar four weeks ago, but said the visit was prompted by concern over the ageing leader’s ill-health. “Though my Lok Janshakti Party is now part of the National Democratic Alliance”, Mr. Saraf said, “I have never carried any messages on behalf of the BJP, and would never do so”.

“I have met Mr. Geelani not once but dozens of times”, he added, “and have also taken Mr. Paswan to speak with him. I intend to ask Mr. Geelani to name the people he met, and to clear my name”.

Mr. Saraf has long been associated with Mr. Geelani, sharing a platform with him at multiple meetings where the veteran Islamist leader has reached out to the Pandit community. Last year, Mr. Saraf also campaigned for the release of Mushtaq Ahmad Bhat—a hardline ally of Mr. Geelani, who is in prison for his alleged role in the violent street mobilisation which rocked Kashmir in 2010.

Political sources close to Mr. Geelani said Mr. Saraf had also sought support from Mr. Geelani for his plans to contest from old-city Srinagar in assembly elections scheduled for later this year — a claim Mr. Saraf denied to The Hindu.

Mr. Mattoo could not immediately be reached for comment.

Omar Abdullah hits out

The Islamist leader’s claims have also set off a political storm in Kashmir, with chief minister Omar Abdullah using it to attack his key rival, the People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti. “The swift denial of any dialogue effort by the Modi camp shows how misplaced Ms. Mufti and her party have been about him”, he told The Hindu. They saw Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s face in Mr. Modi, but the truth is even his shadow isn’t visible any more”.

Ms. Mufti had surprised observers earlier this year, saying that “I think people have this impression that if Modi comes, he may be able to take certain tough decisions, maybe positive ones”. She also said that the PDP was ready to work with Mr. Modi “for the sake of the state”.

Timeline: Kashmir’s Troubled Road to Talks

May 24, 1998: Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee promises Kashmir talks “insaniyat ke daire”, or based on humanitarianism; interpreted as saying extra-constitutional possibilities are open.

2002: Lawyer Ram Jethmalani meets Kashmiri secessionists, as leader of independent committee believed to have Vajpayee’s belssings

2004: First round of talks held between National Democratic Alliance government and All Parties Hurriyat Conference—Mirwaiz Umar Farooq faction. Further talks held with United Progressive Alliance in 2005, 2006.

March, 2009: The Hindu breaks news of secret talks between Hurriyat and UPA government, in bid to break impasse.

2010: Kashmir Group of Interlocutors set up in wake of street violence; report, released in 2012, rejected by Hurriyat.

March 24, 2014: Modi says will to carry forward Vajpayee Kashmir policy of “humanity, democracy and Kashmiriyat”

April 18: Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani says he received Modi envoys in March.