SRINAGAR: Coinciding with the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s call for dialogue, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has embarked on a massive public outreach program, more than a year after Kashmir Valley slipped into chaos following the killing of Burhan Wani.

Mehbooba Mufti, whose Peoples Democratic Party suffered a dent in popularity for using harsh tactics last year to prevent mass protests from spiralling out of control, held a ‘Public Darbar’ in Pulwama yesterday which went well into the night.

Pulwama, the home district of Burhan and one of the four districts of the volatile south Kashmir which was the epicentre of last year’s civilian uprising, has seen highest recruitment of more than 40 local youths into ‘new-age militancy’.

The Chief Minister’s visit is seen by observers as a symbolic measure by the beleaguered ruling party to reclaim the lost ground by reaching out to the people affected by the 2016 uprising during which close to 100 civilians were killed by forces.

“Our image has suffered badly since the situation turned ugly last year. It is important for the party leaders to reconnect with the masses. Mehboobaji will hold similar programs in other parts of Kashmir where she will redress the grievances of people,” a senior PDP leader said.

Mehbooba Mufti’s visit comes days after the Union Home Minister, who was on a four-day visit to the state, announced that the Centre was ready to hold dialogue with all stakeholders to restore normalcy in the conflict-wracked state.

While the announcement created a flutter in the mainstream camp, the powerful separatist trio of Syed Ali Geelani, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who were allowed to meet for the first time in months, also issued a conciliatory statement.

“As far as a sincere, meaningful and result-oriented dialogue process among the three parties to the dispute (India, Pakistan and Hurriyat) is concerned, we were never against it and see it as a means of conflict resolution,” the trio said in a joint statement issued after their meeting at Geelani’s residence in Srinagar.

According to reports, New Delhi has started backchannel efforts to ‘influence’ the Hurriyat in coming forward to join talks. A conference in Dubai last month which was attended by prominent figures from both sides of Kashmir is widely seen as a step in that direction.

However, there are fears that the process may collapse midway unless New Delhi and Islamabad don’t open channels of communication if they aren’t open already.

“Whether we like it or not, Hurriyat is Pakistan’s constituency in Kashmir. In absence of any talks with Pakistan, it would be foolish to expect them (Hurriyat) to sit on the dialogue table,” Noor Mohammad Baba, a professor of Political Science at Central University of Kashmir, said